This particular Tuesday morning would introduce the group to one of the realities of Ethiopia, the HIV endemic. It is one of the poorest countries in the world with astounding percentages of HIV affected, infected and dead. We left the Taitu before 9am and headed out to the Mother Missionaries of Mary twenty minutes drive from the Piazza district to the outer ridge of the one of the biggest slums in Addis. The MMM led by Dr. Sr. Carole Breslin provides many services to the surrounding Cabellas including orphan support, counseling, education, disabled persons support and HIV testing in the adjoining St. Marys clinic. The group was introduced to Carole and the American doctor who has spent the last 11 years in Addis gave us some background information on the MMM in Ethiopia. We were then split into four groups, each was sent off to a different service provider. Timmy, Brian and I went with a social worker Sammi who oversees orphan support.
It was nearly 9.30am, the morning was warming up and we could tell it was going to be a hot one. Sammi led us to a worn white Nissan Patrol and instructed us into the back seats, the old guard opened the steel reinforced gates and we drove out and right which immediately led us descending down a slum road further onto a slum track.
Sammi looks after 263 kids in his catchment (Addis has 2 catchments), the MMM only cares for children under 18 orphaned directly by HIV. Most of cared for by foster parents and extended family. After fifteen minutes, we could not even imagine where we were, the twisting tracks and low rise slum houses made from corrugated iron sheets and wattle & daub quickly concealed our whereabouts to the MMM clinic. Sammi stopped and we got out to start a short walk through an open sewer and many obstacles. We were glad of our hiking boots and it made it easier to overcome the boulders, concrete kerbs and steel shuttering under every footstep. There were many inhabitants quickly passing us by, they knew the obstacles by heart and experience, their bare feet well worn. Sammi stopped at a small door and gestured to us that we should enter. The room behind was no bigger than 6 feet by 8 feet. It housed three people, we felt somewhat relived but still shocked to view another adjoining room of the same size. As the four of us sat on small stools, our hands were shook by an old woman who rested beside an Injera pan. Sammi said that she cared for two children who were the siblings of her best friend who had passed away after infection. Sammi supports the children by providing monthly monetary rations, school materials, food rations and clothes. He asked the woman how she was doing and she replied that she had made a lot of money this week from baking and selling Injera but that it was still not enough. She looked very tired. Tigust must provide for herself and the two children on less than 6 Euro a month. Its all that the MMM can give. We left agreeing, feeling the guilt of voyeurism and previous disregard for the problem faced by so many.
Sammi had 35 children who graduated last year, he has 14 positive children but testing is not mandatory and is only usually asked for when a child is getting sick. The MMM provide training for foster parents and they come together once a month to discuss the problems they face together.
We visited another small hut further down the track and then a makeshift illegal roadside shack made from plastic, cardboard and wood. The first was occupied by a mentally disabled boy and his younger brother who lived alone but who were cared for their grandmother who drops in three times a week. Both of their parents has passed away from HIV. There were two posters covering the cracks above their beds, one of Jesus Christ and the other of the Manchester United Champions League winners team. The illegal roadside hut was too small for us to enter but we were informed by Sammi that it sleeps five, two adults with their deceased brothers children.
Every adult and child knows how the disease is passed but Carole mentioned that there are myths and denials about transmission from tattooing and mother-to-daughter transmission both inside in womb and through breast feeding. We asked Carole who is ‘the’ authority on HIV in Addis what advice would she have for our HIV/AIDS interactive educational software program. She said that it must be aimed at the young men. Two thirds of women in Addis get tested before marriage or when they are concerned due a sick husband. Men need to get tested, there needs to be a behaviour change. Aim to educate 10-12 year old males and have information available on the advanced topics.
She made a great point that we could introduce the information to young males as part of a interactive cartoon where young males are chatting about HIV whilst playing football. The poster in the young boys hut reminded me that even the poorest are infatuated with the lovely game. We will start to work on that CDRom with the help of Carole and many other experts when we return in August. The HIV interactive software will be a part of the Camara educational suite of applications, IT literacy guides and encyclopaedia’s pre-loaded onto each Camara computer.
Currently the computer is the greatest facilitator of education available to schools in Africa.
We left the slum and ascended into a hot days sun, our next visit was the Irish Embassy to register in Ethiopia. That night we enjoyed traditional Ethiopian food in the Addis Ababa restaurant famous for its honey liquor called Tej and communal eating plates. Every item of food is laid out on a thick pancake bread called Injera, its the national dish. You eat only with your right hand and hats must be removed.
The Taitu didn’t seem so bad when we returned.