People worldwide have been ordered to shelter in place as the COVID-19 pandemic rages across communities everywhere – but in the townships of South Africa where a community organization called the Ntethelelo Foundationworks, few people have access to running water, and the risk of starvation is a daily reality – here in these informal settlements, self-isolation is an unattainable luxury for most.
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Since 2008, AHF Fund grant recipient – the Ntethelelo Foundation (NF) – has employed arts-based methods to reach approximately 5,000 young people by engaging marginalized populations, primarily young women and girls and the LGBT community. Through its afterschool program, it seeks to bring about meaningful change in 30 girls’ lives by building up their self-esteem, resilience and fostering support for one another as they face the challenges of living in extreme poverty.
“A typical day for us begins with drafting a lesson plan on sexual health and reproductive rights, then we’re usually off to the supermarket to buy the girls fresh produce along with toiletries and sanitary towels, which we provide monthly,” said Thokozani Ndaba– NF Founder and Executive Director. “The food is especially important since that’s often the only meal they get that day. The meals also help them tolerate their HIV medication—which AHF helps them obtain by us being able to provide transportation to and from clinics.”
Like many community-based organizations, NF was not immune to effects of COVID-19 and were forced to adjust operations to support the many residents in Sitjwetla – a densely populated informal settlement outside Alexandra township, in Johannesburg.
“Social distancing is near impossible if you live in overcrowded shacks—and we’re talking about a community that already has high rates of HIV and TB, rampant unemployment, no proper sanitation or running water, and very limited access to health care,” said Ndaba. “To help educate residents on COVID-19 prevention, MSF [Doctors Without Borders] held training sessions with our girls, who take that knowledge into their communities to help fight COVID-19 and the misinformation surrounding it. We also work with public clinics and health officials in Johannesburg – we’ve had to adapt to do what we can to help end this pandemic.”
With support from the Fund, NF works with AHF South Africa to develop programmatic interventions that train the girls to be peer leaders and give them knowledge to mobilize their community. Funding also goes toward theater workshops and photography course projects where girls learn to share their stories through photographs and help to end stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS.
“We created a campaign in our squatter camp where we use theatre to address the issues of stigma, since some of the young women are orphans who previously did not want to take ARVs publicly or discuss their HIV status,” said Ndaba. “We’ve also partnered with AHF on significant dates in South African history, such as Human Rights Day and Youth Day, which allows us to engage our community about the harmful aspects around stigma and HIV among youth.”
“AHF has given us the light to carry on as an organization,” added NF youth program participant Aquelline Shaku. “In addition to the financial and emotional support, they consistently come to check on us to see how we are doing.”
AHF has been providing support to the Ntethelelo Foundation since 2018. AHF created its AHF Fund in 2012 to provide short-term grants to smaller organizations worldwide that advance HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, treatment, advocacy and the elimination of stigma.