As the Rooster Crows: News from St. Rodrigue High School
Co-Authored with Rachel Glass, Grinnell Corps: Lesotho, 2010-11
WHO ARE YOU?
Your clothes are red,
Covering all your body,
But that gives us sign,
You mean you are Dangerous
Who are you?
On the Thabana-Ntlenyana,
The highest mountain
To see all the youth,
Who are you?
You wait for the partners to come together.
Then you are there,
You run after wounds washed without gloves,
You ran after babies being born,
You are there in hospitals, hotels and different places
So, who are you?
When the blood comes in contact
You come again and destroy everything.
You are carrying the virus on your back.
Your name and virus has spread,
The world abroad has your story
But, who are you?
Knowers of your name
Call you AIDS
Really, who are you?
One hundred percent of people
In your world at large are dead.
You start by destroying blood vessels in the bodies
You make our self an obstacle in our lives
Then you say we must care
Why must we?
Though your name is known
Don't be happy that you are notorious.
When shall you come to an end?
Wise up, be aware of him,
Have an idea and make a decision.
Be careful so that he may not come
Between you and your partner.
This poem, by Mpati Pheane (a student in Form D, equivalent to 11th grade), was one of the first submissions to the St. Rodrigue Literary Magazine in February 2010 and appeared in print this past August. The author said that she wrote this poem in order to make students at St. Rodrigue High School more aware of HIV/AIDS. In doing so, she has brought up another issue that strongly affects our students but that is actually not widely discussed.
While these figures are likely a little out-of-date and inexact because they represent self-reported data from the start of the school year, Sister Armelina Tsiki, our principal, believes that about 121 of the girls are single orphans (they have lost one parent), and another 52 girls are double orphans (they have lost both parents). Exactly how many are HIV/AIDS related deaths is actually unknown due to a pervasive fear of testing. However, considering that Lesotho has the third highest prevalence rate in the world (CIA World Factbook), it is assumed that a high proportion of these deaths are likely linked to HIV/AIDS.
Despite the number of girls that have lost parents here, recently, the school had a Parent's Weekend to which each girl was required to bring a parent, under threat of expulsion. Upon hearing this, we were...perplexed. This seemed to be not only impossible but highly insensitive. What we learned that day is that when the girls refer to their parents, what they mean is any type of parental figure in their life; milling about the classrooms and walkways of our school were mostly grandmothers and siblings. If you talked to the girls or read their compositions, it would be difficult to ascertain which of our girls are these single and double orphans; many live in the hostel away from their families and talk about someone in their life as their parent. For example, we were introduced to one girl's mother, who turned out to be a nun. In the United States, when we hear the word “orphan” we think of someone living alone and without a family, whereas here in Lesotho, an orphan just implies someone who is living without their birth parents. Lesotho only has one orphanage—children here who have lost parents are usually taken in without question.
HIV/AIDS is a huge problem here, and while Mpati's poem illustrates some awareness, it is not an issue that is widely discussed at St. Rodrigue High School. We were interested in hearing how our girls think about this issue, as it affects nearly everyone. So we asked them if they felt ok about exploring this subject for our next column. All of the girls present seemed interested in writing with the goal of educating people in Grinnell about how HIV/AIDS has impacted Lesotho. The girls came back with textbook-like facts describing the virus. For example:
Lesotho is now in a desperate social and economic situation. The AIDS pandemic is now clearly visible all over the country.
Lesotho is experiencing the big problem of many orphans whose parents have died and they don't have the opportunity to receive adequate education to rebuild and maintain their own families in the future.
While these things are true, they don't show the thoughts of the girls nor touch upon how they might be personally dealing with the consequences of this “AIDS pandemic”. These types of articles, coming from girls who ordinarily revel in writing about themselves and their thoughts was surprising. While the girls are knowledgeable about the facts, they are almost always hesitant to make it a personal issue, even though it already is. At our next meeting we discussed how to best explain the effects of HIV/AIDS to an audience, such as Grinnell, that does not interact with it on a daily basis. We came to agree that an effective way of teaching/learning about HIV/AIDS is through stories. As Mpati wrote: “When I think about this disease I feel upset and worried. For us to change our lives from AIDS we should understand things like stories about it.” This is a story subsequently written by Puseletso Lepelesana, another club member:
HIV/AIDS is brutal to people, all the world is crying because of it. In my village there was a person called Ts'otleho. He lost parents and became a double orphan at an early age.
When he was 9 years, his mother died of HIV/AIDS after that his father also died, so that left Ts'otleho a double orphan.
It was difficult for him to attend school because he lived with his uncle who was living in extreme poverty. Sometimes he went to school without food, sometimes, his teacher sent him home due to unpaid school fees. After he had passed Form E, his uncle also died due to HIV/AIDS.
Ts'otleho was adopted by one of the villagers who treated him badly. When he came from work he looked after cattle and cooked, but the villager did not appreciate the effort he made. Ts'otleho's unhappy childhood was due to HIV/AIDS.
The stories they brought back are important illustrations about how HIV/AIDS affects the Basotho people, but we noticed that none of the people mentioned were particularly close to the author. Thus, the stories still didn't include the first person. We discussed once again, and sent them back to the grind stone, encouraging them, if they were comfortable, to put themselves into their accounts. Nteboheleng Tohlang wrote about her own thoughts, saying:
When I think about HIV I feel ashamed and angry because it kills most of the people who are infected. Work that was done by older people is now left in the hands of young children who have to take care of themselves. Now my own life has changed because I know how I can treat HIV so that I could live for a long time if I had it. People should change the way they look at HIV and take advice from radios and newspapers and from other people.
And, at the end of the week, this is how Nits'eliseng Sepoqouane's article had developed:
Long time ago when I think of HIV I was feeling very frightened and confused because it was reappeared as a disease which is not acceptable to the people. Nowadays my thoughts have changed because of the workshop that I used to attend.
Moreover I realize that many people are dying of HIV. The reason is that they hide their status. Earlier, infected people were discriminated against and therefore they are still afraid of being discriminated against. I find it amazing that many choose to die instead of knowing their status. Because, there are some treatments to help them.
To prove what I have written about the people that hide their status, let me tell you a short story:
At my home village, there was a woman that was very ill. She took five years before she went to the hospital. Because of her illness, the doctor advised her to test for the HIV. She tested and she found that she tested positive. But when she arrived home, she did not tell he mother who was taking care of her that she was positive. Then her mother took care of her without precautions and she inffected her. She also infected her baby because she was breast feeding at that time. Her mother and her both died. The baby only left and her sister took care of her. The fact that they treated him badly because his mother's status makes me to be annoyed because he is also infected. And they discriminate against him.
This column presents to you only the beginning of the story of HIV/AIDS in Lesotho and at St. Rodrigue. Over the past week, our discussions with the girls prompted us to have even more questions than when we began. In our next column, we will explore some of those questions more, as well as the clinic at St. Rodrigue, and the resources that are available to our students.