It's a sad reality, but for many communities in Africa - and in other parts of the world - HIV/AIDS is increasingly becoming a tragic fact of life. This disease is blind to race, colour, gender, or financial status. HIV/AIDS engenders widespread social and economic problems and whilst many companies choose to sweep the thorny issues under the carpet, there are many others who are undertaking staff education and counseling with the aim not just of decreasing the stigma that attaches to the disease, but also furthering knowledge (the aim being to reduce infection rates) whilst providing support and information to those who may be infected, or to those who act as care givers.
Summerhill has been fortunate in that it has been far less affected than many organisations but it is not however immune. We are therefore firmly committed to providing support and education to all our staff.
On Tuesday we welcomed HIV/AIDS counsellor ANNE LEON to the farm.
Anne has "lived, loved and led a normal happy life" even though she has been HIV positive for 12 years. The 41-year old white South African from Umbilo in Durban runs educational workshops and speaks at primary schools, businesses, churches, and tertiary institutions to assist people in understanding more about the disease. She also works at the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust in Durban and runs a Buddy Helpline, putting hundreds of HIV-positive people in touch with each other to chat and give each other hope and support.
Anne put together a programme on living positively with Aids and how to avoid it. The programme examines safe sexual practices, diet, mindset and exercise, as well as the role of anti-retrovirals should a person develop full blown AIDS.
Anne's co-worker Ozeal (also HIV positive) presented the majority of the session in Zulu. He spoke passionately and in detail about the cause and impact of the illness and how not just to prevent infection but also how to live with the virus. Mick Goss was on hand to introduce the speakers and all stud managers as well as 140 additional staff attended the sessions. The talks were well received and let's face it - it isn't easy sitting with co-workers and discussing the facts of life with some pretty sobering stats thrown in for good measure. We certainly learned a lot, it was heartening to see so many people ask so many questions, and as many were heard to remark afterwards - if such sessions have the effect of breaking down some of the fear that is associated with the word 'HIV' then it will be an excellent starting point for people to be able to discuss the matter more openly, ask further questions, and perhaps come forward for assistance should they become unwell, or if they are caring for someone who is sick and they need additional know-how such as where to get the best medical care, or day-to-day issues such as dietary information etc, then they will be able to do so.