Monday, July 28, 2008

Memory Books & Home-based Care

Last week marked the initiation of Memory Boxes and Memory Books at Cotlands Outreach Center in Soweto. The Memory Books were primarily facilitated by volunteers from World Hope, a Christian NGO that recruits volunteers from places around the world. Five women from Colorado spent Monday through Friday (today) working with one or two Home-based Care clients to create their Memory Books, which can be both a legacy for their children/grand children and a positive/therapeutic process of building their story for perhaps the first time. For these folks it is also important for them to be encouraged to plan for a time when they will no longer be alive and to make a permanent record of their love for the children they leave behind. Along with the books, they have made “Memory Boxes” in which to store their Memory Books and put any things they want to leave behind.

This is a group uniquely suited to this narrative program: the grandmothers are old and the mothers are HIV+--both generations may not survive the decade. I observed that, in comparison to the young mothers, the grannies took to the task more readily, seemed to have fun, and were more talkative with each other and the volunteers. The client Meisie and I visited last Friday for our "intervention" came for the first time to the Center; she told me she was feeling a bit better and smiled radiantly for my camera.

The Memory Book and Box process has superceded the ususal support groups for the mothers and grandmothers that take place Monday through Fridays at the Center. I'm sorry to miss being able to attend these, but I doubt I would be able to follow them because very little real conversations here are in English. With enthusiastic support from one of the careworkers, it was decided that I would do a training with all of them on basic counseling. It may be that one area where I can be routinely helpful each year is in offering trainings. I think they could use some basic diagnostic knowledge, at least to identify depression and trauma, in the hopes that someday psychological services will be available to their clients. It also appears that family counseling skills could be very helpful in cases where family conflicts add to the stress of HIV+ mothers and to grandmothers caring for young HIV+ children.

The new Outreach Center building (donated in part by the NBA!) has a very large living/dining room, which accommodates couches & stuffed chairs for support group meetings. There’s a good-sized, well-equipped kitchen, two bathrooms, another function room or craft room, the office, and at the end of the hallway, a large room for childcare/Educare. The children in the program can attend while their mother or grandmother is in support group, making crafts, or sewing with the "Philagogos" ("Go Grannies!"). Tuesday, I went into that space with Busi (director of the outreach program) to dance to music with the children, who range from toddlers to preschoolers. There must have been ten or more children in a room that was too small for the. Nolobabalo, the teacher, was occupied elsewhere, and then Busi left me alone there. There was rough-housing between the two older boys, a couple girls wanting to be picked up (signalled by the universal, "Me! Me! Me!"), and a toddler systematically licking a wall heater. I was afraid to leave them alone, but finally I’d had enough and raced down the hallway, looking for Nolobabalo. Breathless, I asked if the kids were okay left on their own, and looking at me as though I were an idiot, she said, “of course!” I am clearly an ignorant foreigner! Nolobabalo must be very good at her job, for I rarely hear any distressful sounds coming from the Educare room.

The Philagogos do their sewing in the two-car garage space, which is a huge (literally) improvement from the other building in the Orlando neighborhood of Soweto. There’s a large cutting table, storage closets, and three or four sewing machines. Four mothers have joined the grannies. The former building was not only sketchy but the men living in the adjoining buildings were all ex-cons. Only women and children came to the Center, and so we all felt a bit vulnerable in that place. I learned yesterday that one of the men, who often tried to socialize with the Cotlands careworks, had been (is?) a serial killer! I don’t quite know what to make of that…what was he doing out of prison?

The new surroundings consist of permanent family homes and a high school at the end of the block. Cotlands has received a generous grant to create a large garden on school property, where the grannies will cultivate vegetables for Center lunches, to sell, and to give to those without enough food. Meisie’s goal is to have every granny in the program have a home garden to help decrease her poverty.

1 comment:

Linda Lee said...

Hi Susan!
Thanks for sharing your experience with us...your stories and photos are inspiring!