Friday, May 22, 2009


I leave Moshi tomorrow.

I have received several emails and messages in the last little while saying things like, “you must be excited to come home!” Unfortunately, I am not. I don’t want to leave here. I don’t want to leave Tanzania. There are certainly people I miss from home and will be excited to see, but seeing those people is what is exciting, not the going home part. Please, for those of you who I am going to see, keep this in mind. I may not be all smiles when I arrive back in Canada. Keep in mind that I made a life here as well. I have a home here; I have a family here, and here, I have made a difference.

There is a difference between the goodbyes I said at home when I came here and the goodbyes I will have to give tomorrow. Instead of “see you in three months,” these goodbyes are likely for good.

I am not reluctant to leave because of I feel I haven’t accomplished what I set out to do, because I have. I am fortunate enough to be able to leave here saying I accomplished everything I could have. I was able to do a lot for White Orange Youth while I was here. I wrote 5 comprehensive grant proposals; I organized and carried out a national AIDS memorial event; I taught safe practice to many people; I handed out thousands of condoms; I helped plan and carry out mobile testing events; I showed the accountant how to do accounting, and I learned more than I could have ever imagined. My volunteer term was a success. For that, I am lucky and thankful.

Yet, I have many things to do before I leave. So many pictures to take, so many goodbyes to say, so little time. I am not ready to go.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Rip and Roll - Extended Version

My placement has occupied the majority of my time for the past two weeks. Lately, my typical day has consisted of working 9-7 in rural communities around Moshi. I have been helping organize and carry out various VCT testing events. VCT stands for voluntary council testing, a mobile HIV test that is very easy and efficient.

Basically, what we do is drive into rural communities throughout the Kilimanjaro region (usually 1-2 hours away), put on a show consisting of dramatic and musical performances in the market area, and encourage people to get tested.

The performers are from a group called Kiliwizard - a group of talented individuals who dedicate their talent to providing 'edutainment' (rapping, singing, druming and dancing all the while communicating the importance of HIV/AIDS prevention). They are really cool and really talented, and there is two guys within the group who have released a song that gets radio play in Tanzania. They act as the draw... initially come to see them, and then hopefully they will decide to get tested.

Set up in tents, we have several testing stations with qualified nurses. It is all very confidential; even White Orange Youth (my organization) staff are not allowed in the tents while testing is in progress. On a typical day, we test between 150 and 200 people. About 7 percent are found to be positive. In tbe event of a positive test, the patient is given a referal to a nearby source at which they can obtain free HIV medication and counselling.

The test itself is actually pretty cool. They prick your finger the same way one would to measure blood sugar if they were diabetic. You place the drop of blood on the end of this stick and dilute it with a chemical I cannot remember. Then, a liquid bar moves across a strip of paper, if the bar stops in one of two places, the test is postive. If the bar passes all the way to the end of the strip, you are negative. I tested one day because I wanted to see how it worked, and for the record, I was negative. Hahaha.

My main role for the VCT testing campaign is instructing. Using a penis model, I show people how to properly put on condoms and answer any questions I can. You would be incredibly shocked with how many people here do not know how to put on a condom. One of the major problems within the Kilimanjaro region is that sexual health education contradicts cultural norms, so it is ommitted from school curriculum. Things we take for granted are not-so-common-knowlege here. My instruction is a 15 step process... not just rip and roll. If sexual discussion makes you squirm, you may want to skip the next 2 paragraphs. The condom instruction process is as follows:

1. Check the expiry date on the outside of the box.
2. Open the box and remove the condoms.
3. Read the instructions printed on the inside of the box.
4. Check the expiry date printed on the condom package itself.
5. Verify that the condom package still has air surrounding the condom.
6. Rip off one of the condoms.
7. Open the condom from the jagged side of the packaging.
8. Remove the condom carefully.
9. Place the condom on the tip of your erect penis.
10. Pinch the end of the condom to ensure there is a place for semen to enter.
11. Roll the condom on until you reach the base of your penis.
12. Immediately after ejaculation, the female must remove the condom. This is because the fluids on the outside of the condom belong to the woman, therefor helping further prevent the spread of HIV.
13. Make sure the woman removes the condom in a way that it is not turned inside out, which may spill semen.
14. She must then tie the condom in a knot, preventing spillage.
15. Dispose of the condom in an appropriate trash receptical.

As you can see, it is very step by step. To be fair, I was not aware of step 12, although it makes sense for high-risk HIV/AIDS areas. I also have to instruct women here on how to use female condoms, using a vagina model. I had never seen a female condom before (not a diaphram, this is different) but they are, well.... interesting. It looks like one of those giant tubes you crawl through at a play house when your a child. Basically the women inserts the tube into her vagina, leaving the ring at the open end on the outside of her labia. They are nasty. Primarily, we encourage their use to commercial sex workers and women involved in transactional sex - that is our politically correct term for prostitute.

So here I am... Graeme Hoit, the sex-ed teacher. Who would have thought that I would have the maturity to carry out such instruction.

I also sometimes work crowd control, preventing those in line to get tested from peering in the testing area. And, believe it or not, I was one of the main forces in designing and painting the banners used for the events. I believe there are some pictures on facebook of these.

All in all the activities are awesome. We are accomplishing something: by updating people on their health status, we are helping to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS due to ignorance. Although I now often arrive late, or miss many meals because I'm out on location, I feel please with what were doing. Those of you hoping to see a skinny Graeme may get your wish upon my return after all.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Heaven and Hell

Before, I spoke of one of my favourite places in the world: Tuleeni Orphanage. The children have nothing except each other, but that is all they need. They are happy. They are loved, and on the couple days a week when I am able to go there, it is always the highlight of my day. This post will be dedicated to contrasting Tuleeni with the other orphanage associated with CCS: Upendo.

The word upendo in Swahili means love, yet nothing could be a more false representation what is actually practiced at this orphanage. Unlike Tuleeni, the building is amazing – there is adequate space for all the children, each has their own crib, there is a room for playing, a room for eating, a room for sleeping, a courtyard, a playground, murals painted on the walls, an adequate amount of workers and a large bin of toys. Yet, I have never been to an unhappier place in my entire life.

The orphanage is run by a group of nuns who declare themselves The Precious Blood Sisters of Upendo on the sign outside the building, as well as several workers who, for the most part, were once orphans themselves. The unhappiness begins with the corporal punishment. They beat the children with sticks. These children are all younger than 8-years-old, with the majority under the age of 4. The children are hit for reasons that I cannot even begin to comprehend. For example, one day at Upendo, for no reason at all, the workers decided that the boys were not allowed to go into the playroom. The children were lined up against the wall and asked to sit down. They were made to sit there, on the cement floor with their backs against the wall for hours with no explanation; if they moved, readjusted their position, or talked, they were beaten.

The children are not potty trained. They are not provided with diapers, which, to be fair, is not that uncommon here. The issue is that the children are beaten for wetting themselves. These are 2-year-olds. If they do pee themselves, they are forced to remain in their wet clothes, despite having the luxury, unlike most of the children at Tuleeni, to actually have other sets of clothing. The workers’ way of dealing with this situation, instead of making an effort to potty train the children, is to try and stop them from peeing all together, thus, the children are not given water. They do not understand the ramifications of severe dehydration, especially at such a young age. The children are so thirsty that, sometimes if a child pees on the floor, others will try and drink the urine.

Two weeks ago there was an incident with one of the baby girls who had a very severe ear infection. She is one of the cutest, most precious children I have ever seen. She screamed constantly. She had a fever, her ear was noticeably swollen and red, yet the Sisters refused to take action beyond consulting the on-staff nurse, saying she was fine, yelling at her to stop crying. She was administered painkillers, but nothing to cure the raging infection. They would shove q-tips in her ears while she was screaming, saying they were cleaning it out. Finally, one of the girls who is placed at Upendo intervened and took along the doctor we have volunteering at CCS to examine her. To the best of my knowledge, she is healthy now.

Intervention by CCS and Upendo is not well received. Many of you may be reading this wondering why the hell we haven’t taken drastic action against this cruelty. We are volunteers, there is nothing keeping them from simply saying CCS volunteers are no longer welcome at Upendo. Then, nothing would ever change. It cannot be something that is dealt with by us telling the nuns and workers what to do. It needs to come from a very respected Tanzanian source, and it needs to be long term. The volunteer who is placed there now is outlining a careful, calculated plan to change Upendo. We are all praying to God it works.

The children at Upendo rarely smile. They have adequate resources, yet they are incredibly unhappy. They may have basic needs; they may have toys and their own bed, but they are not loved. When we think of ‘the lucky kid’ from our childhood, we think of the kid who had the cool toys and the good food in their lunch. We think of the kid who wore the nice clothes, and drove the electric powered mini jeep. Yet, that kid was probably not the lucky kid. What every child needs, more than any toy or outfit, is love. What would make every child happy is the care that is give at Tuleeni, not the materials given at Upendo.