Ede & Ravenscroft Prize

South Africa Report – Summer 2005
Clouds of Hope, Underberg, Kwa-Zulu Natal
Tom Meccrow- Geography

I first arrived in South Africa in January 2003, as a volunteer with a Scottish charity called Project Trust, and was assigned to a project in a rural village called Elliotdale, approximately 60km outside of Umtata - the old capital of the Transkei homeland - teaching computing to local people in a workers co-operative project. The strange mix of rural village life - no running water, spontaneous electricity, and basic "hut" accommodation - made the experience extremely unique, and really put me in the centre of this countries diverse community, with extreme poverty literally on the doorstep

Unfortunately due to financial reasons this project collapsed, and a new project was quickly found a new project; Clouds of Hope, located in Underberg at the foot of the Southern Drakensberg mountain range. Clouds of Hope is an AIDS initiative project comprising of a children's care home, HIV/AIDS counseling, Anti-Retroviral treatment programs, and outreach work within the local rural community. My original job comprised of several different sections; teaching at one of the local schools, assisting with the outreach work in the local 'low cost housing' , and social work with the children at the home.

The teaching I was doing drew upon skills learnt throughout A-level. My main task was to set up recently donated computers and teach both the staff and pupils how to use them, also including vital technology and business education into the lessons. On top of this I was also teaching maths and geography to both primary and matric (A-level standard) levels. The work was very rewarding, and much appreciated by the school who were struggling to afford qualified teachers.

The outreach work was undertaken before the start of school, meaning early 5am starts to reach the most vulnerable within the area, many of who relied on our aid as their main source of food. Porridge was handed out for breakfast, along with sandwiches for lunch. This work was often very straining, both physically and emotionally, however also extremely enlightening and rewarding. Most of the children who received our food packages were in some way affected by AIDS, many were orphans, and it was sometimes obvious that some were directly affected by the disease. The outreach work was done in conjunction with the local 'Love Life' group, a government 'positive lifestyle' initiative scheme aimed at increasing HIV/AIDS awareness throughout the country and promoting a healthy sexual lifestyle.

Social work was carried out in the evenings and weekends, assisting with homework and organising activities for the children in the home. The activities ranged from playing in the garden to organising trips to Durban, for some of the children the first real experience of life 'outside Underberg'

I returned home at the end of 2003 and spent my time since then thinking of ways in which Clouds of Hope could be advanced. Many of my thoughts were on the training of HIV/AIDS workers in the local community, and the ever more exciting thought about the roll out of lifesaving ARV drugs. Nursing Sister Abigail Ntleko - the founder of COH - had similar ideas and contacted the local hospital, Centrecow to find out about the availability of the drugs. Amazingly a German non-governmental organisation was co-ordinating the rollout of ARV's in the region. Unfortunately due to the stigma attached to the HIV virus, the interest in the program was very slow to start, but within the past few months interest has increased and Clouds of Hope is currently helping approximately 12 people receive training in the application and use of the drugs. COH is also providing transport to and from the hospital, which for many people is the only reason they are unable to receive the ARV's.

Much of my time in the UK has been dedicated to fund raising and HIV awareness campaigns. Through local press releases, public talks, school talks, and working with organisations such as the Scouting Association and the Make Poverty History campaign. The result has been amazing, with many letters of encouragement and thousands of pounds in public donations. A Clouds of Hope community bank account has been opened within the UK to help with the increase in donations and to streamline efficiency in money transfer, and I am in continuing contact with the British Charities Commission in an attempt to register the UK Clouds of Hope fundraising branch as a registered UK charity. The money that has been raised is currently being used to fund a food aid scheme for the patients receiving ARV's. The food aid is designed to ease the burden for those living with the disease whilst they are in their early stages of ARV treatment, and although it is only a small amount it has the potential save many lives from malnutrition.

Since arriving back in South Africa in January I have slipped back into the knish I left behind. Although I am no longer teaching at the school (new volunteers have arrived since I left), the outreach work that I was involved in two years ago has moved on a great deal. Food packages are now delivered on an even greater scale, extending into nearby rural towns and villages and catering for the ever increasing number of children left orphaned by HIV. Clothing packages donated by both local families and those sent over from the UK have been distributed throughout the communities, keeping many children warm as the freezing winter temperatures draw nearer. I have been involved in the organisation and distribution of these packages and the food aid.

The children's home has also seen the building of three new cottages designed to cater for the ever increasing number of children who need assistance in the area. It has been my job to order the furnishings and equipment for each of the cottages, and also to create an inventory of all items currently in the home so that our assets can be assessed. To do the job to my best ability I have taken time to visit other care centres in the region so that an efficient program can be drawn up, including the creation of a large computer database to keep track of food and equipment within all the houses.

I have also been running the food aid scheme for our ARV patients; from purchasing the food to packaging and distribution. The South African Disability Grant is lost to many HIV+ patients on ARV treatment as their immune system slowly redevelops, resulting in lack of funding for essential items such as food and clothing.

I am very grateful for the award I received, as it has allowed me to implement both the ARV treatment and food parcel projects – something I have been fund raising for in the UK for some time. The introduction of ARV's within the Underberg community will have a profound effect on the spread of the disease within this small and vulnerable town.

Tom Mecrow

Clouds of Hope, Underberg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa

The project is currently looking for major sponsors for a new AIDS centre for the district, dedicated to the roll out of ARV drugs. The estimated cost will be £50,000 however any donations will be gratefully recieved. For more information about the project, and how people can help raise
funds, please visit http://www.cloudsofhope.com/ or email thomasmecrow@yahoo.co.uk



Secretary to Prizes Committee
December 2005
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