“Máke” in si swati means “mother”; it is a very appropriate name for a lady I met who works as a rural health promoter. Rural health promoters are people that live in the community who try to improve the access to medical care by either making people who are sick go to hospital or, if they are too ill tell, the hospital where they live so they can go treat them. I will explain more about what Máke does once I have explained how she came to work as a rural health promoter.
She began to explain that she was once married with 4 children – although, tragically, 3 were murdered by someone in the night. Máke was certain that her husband either committed the crime or employed someone to do this. She went to court, however her husband was not convicted, as there was too little evidence. During this heart-breaking period in her life she managed to overcome her hatred and despair by believing that God one day would see justice. She is a strong Christian and this faith is her saving grace. A few years later after this tragic loss Máke unfortunately suffered more misfortune; while driving with her granddaughter she swerved to avoid an unexpected tree in the road, this caused her to crash the car. The crash caused severe injury to herself and tragically her grandchild died in the crash. This death brought further hurt and pain to her life and her family. Her in-laws refused to be a part of her life. Despite all these horrendous and soul-destroying events she praises the Lord that she is alive.
Now this leads me to explain how she came to work as a rural heath promoter and what one is. A few years ago Máke came across an old man in bush, lying groaning in pain. She picked him up and took him to his house. She looked after him, and fed and watered him. She advised him to go to hospital, however he refused to go, since he was scared of going to hospital and scared about what the doctors may say to him. She said she would take him to the hospital and accompany him during the consultation, and relay to the doctor his illness. She did as she promised, and soon after the old man got better – and told others about how Máke helped him! They too went for her help and wanted her to accompany them to the hospital. She has been working as a rural health promoter ever since – it came about because people knew that she was kind patient and most importantly could understand them. She would help people if they were scared about facing the busy bustling hospital. She explained that people often don’t go to the hospital because they believe in traditional medicines and witch doctors. One witch doctor treatment for HIV that I have been told about is dried and ground up black mamba (the most deadly snake in Swaziland). It is believed that this is the most powerful animal in Swaziland and thus it makes your immune system similarly powerful. Beliefs into traditional medicine are strong and so delay people coming to hospital and taking ARV drugs.
Máke helps people in many ways- when I asked what it was like for children living with HIV in Swaziland she explained that sometimes child could have a difficult time. One child, called Terrance, refused to go to school because he was being teased by the other children and alienated by the teacher’s and children alike. I have been told that some teachers would mark children’s books with gloves on in the fear that they would contract HIV from the books- this is of course not true and the King of Swaziland recently (last year) made it illegal for school children with HIV be discriminated against in school. Back to Terrance and Máke- when Máke heard about Terrance not going to school she was determined to stop this. She went one day to school with him, made him go and sat with him the whole day at school, she explained to the teachers why he had not been coming to school and wanted to Máke sure he regularly attended from then on.
It seems rural health promoters and people working in the community are an essential way to promote awareness about HIV; the testing of it, the treatment, availability and access, as well as educating people about the disease in order to reduce stigma and fear. People like Máke can also aid with some of the social needs of these people. I will be going out with Máke into the community tomorrow to see some of the work she does.