Aiding the AIDS campaign

Today is World AIDS Day!

A terminally-ill patient
A terminally-ill patient in SA

I was pleasantly surprised when I received the communication from the Blogcatalog requesting all bloggers to Unite in the campaign against spread of HIV/AIDS. Yes, thats a wonderful idea as today the thinking people all over the world are seized of this killer scourge problem and are trying to widely broadcast the campaign so that it reaches the most affected.

When I was actively serving the Tuberculosis patients in Ranchi TB Sanatorium, the then Doctor Maharaj of the Sanatorium – Swami Satyeshananda – used to impress upon me on how the TB had become intimately related to the HIV infections (while unfortunately the official circles would try to underplay the statistics). I realised the inter-connexion well when I came to South Africa last year and started associating with the welfare activities here, pioneered by a monastic brother Swami Saradananda who has been relentless in conceiving and executing suitable programmes for amelioration especially of the HIV/Aids infected patients in the KwaZulu Natal province which is said to have the highest incidence in this country. 

There are an estimated 33 million people with AIDS worldwide. It affects every country, city, and town in the world. And, the most frightening thing about it is that is going largely unchecked. In fact, that is one of the reason that worldaidscampaign.org is continuing its “leadership” theme, which it developed after learning that many leaders who promised to support AIDS were not keeping their promises. 

What’s the position in South Africa especially of the AIDS affected children?

Ekusizaneni Children's Home, in K Section, Kwa Mashu
Ekusizaneni Children

As per AVERT an international HIV and Aids Charity, having projects in countries where there is a particularly high rate of infection, such as sub-Saharan Africa, or where there is a rapidly increasing rate of infection such as in India, the UNAIDS estimated that there were 1.4 million South African children orphaned by AIDS in 2007, compared to 780,000 in 2003. I am quoting from AVERT:

With many women who are HIV-positive still not receiving drugs that could prevent them passing HIV to their babies, HIV infections are alarmingly common amongst children in South Africa. According to UNAIDS, there were around 280,000 children aged below 15 living with HIV in South Africa in 2007.

Children who are living with HIV are highly vulnerable to illness and death unless they are provided with paediatric antiretroviral treatment. Unfortunately there is still a shortage of such treatment in South Africa. The AIDS Law Project, an NGO based in Johannesburg, estimated that 50,000 children in South Africa were in need of antiretroviral drugs at the beginning of 2006, but that only around 10,000 were receiving them. UNAIDS estimates that at the end of 2005, children accounted for 8% of those receiving antiretroviral drugs in South Africa.

As well as many children being infected with HIV in South Africa, many more are suffering from the loss of their parents and family members from AIDS. Once orphaned, these children are more likely to face poverty, poor health and a lack of access to education.

How our Centre in South Africa stepped in…?

Swami Saradananda of SA, a dynamic monk for social change
Swami Saradananda of SA, a dynamic monk for social change

During the 1980’s and early nineties prior to the first, free democratic elections in South Africa, violence in the Kwa Mashu area was at its peak. This resulted in many killings and deaths of parents leaving behind orphaned children. In addition, there were also many orphans due to their parents dying of HIV/Aids and children infected by HIV/Aids.

The Ramakrishna Centre, here under the able leadership of Swami Saradananda mobilised its resources and engaged with Mrs BF Mhlongo from the Ekusizaneni Children’s Home, in K Section, Kwa Mashu to be of some assistance. At that time they had make-shift wooden cabins that were used for the children and during inclement weather posed many problems for them. The Centre immediately saw the need for good, secure and comfortable accommodation for these children and began a project to build two dormitories for boys and girls. 

These dormitories were built and furnished with double bunk beds and handed over to the local committee in 2001, by the kind assistance of our donors and well-wishers. According to Prof Vinod Jogessar, the Chairperson of the Centre’s Health Wing Ramakrishna Clinic, “On  the opening day, 5 patients were admitted.. These patients were in wheel chairs; emaciated, frail, weak and unable to walk. Just being put into comfortable beds with clean sheets and caring nursing staff was something they had not experienced before. The joy expressed on the faces of these patients is indescribable. Some weeks later, two of these patients walked out of the hospice on discharge. Doctors of the Ramakrishna Clinic conduct weekly medical rounds and also provide fresh vegetables and other provisions on a weekly basis. Good nutrition is an important aspect in  the management of patients with AIDS. The medical doctors feel privileged to be able to serve the needy and regard service to man as  worship of God.” 

And for the terminally-ill patients…

Ms N Ngubane, Councillor Mr L Naidoo (Deputy Mayor eThekwini Municipality, KZN), Pastor B A Sibisi (Chairperson, Ramakrishna Abalindi Home), the Hon. Dr Z L Mkhize (Minister for Finance and Economic Development, KZN), Caregiver, Adv H Kessie Naidu SC, Mr P Ishwarlaal and Prof V B Jogessar
From left: Ms N Ngubane, Councillor Mr L Naidoo (Deputy Mayor eThekwini Municipality, KZN), Pastor B A Sibisi (Chairperson, Ramakrishna Abalindi Home), the Hon. Dr Z L Mkhize (Minister for Finance and Economic Development, KZN), Caregiver, Adv H Kessie Naidu SC, Mr P Ishwarlaal (Chairperson of Ramakrishna Centre of SA) and Prof V B Jogessar (Chairperson of Ramakrishna Clinic)

Recently the Centre took up providing indoor facility to terminally-ill patients. On 6 August 2008, the Ramakrishna Abalindi Home (Inanda) was declared open by the Hon. Dr Z L Mkhize (Minister for Finance and Economic Development, KwaZulu-Natal). This facility was built by the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa and handed over on that day to the office-bearers of the Home. The Home, intended for terminally-ill patients, comprises three sections of 45 beds, made up of three wards (15 beds for males, 15 beds for females, 10 beds for children and 5 beds for mothers wanting to stay with their children), offices, stock rooms, ablutions facilities etc. The Home will provide a much needed facility for HIV-AIDS and cancer patients in the area.

eThembeni Home for Terminally ill patients - Female ward
eThembeni Home for Terminally ill patients - Female ward

This is the second Home that the Centre has constructed for terminally-ill patients, the previous one being a 30-bed facility in Kwa Mashu. Minister Mkhize pointed out that the facility was not only a healthcare Home but also a symbol of integrated effort between Indians and Africans that promoted inter-racial, inter-religious and inter-linguistic understanding.

Memorable visit – Last Six days

Swami Smarananandaji with Swami Saradanandaji at Newcastle in deep discussion

Sri Swami Smarananandaji Maharaj, one of the Vice-Presidents of the world-wide Ramakrishna Order completed his South African tour on 4th June, 2008. He and his Secretary Swami Jnanavratanandaji left Durban on 5th June morning by a homeward bound SA flight to Mumbai and onto Kolkata. Here is a short Report on his memorable visit – the Last Six days (30th May to 4th June) in South Africa. The holy visit brought about a remarkable enthusiasm among the Ramakrishna devotees and Hindus in general. The spiritual atmosphere was palpable wherever he went. Many sincere spiritual seekers got his invaluable guidance. 

Swami Smarananandaji with his Secretary Swami Jnanavratanandaji and Swami Saradanandaji of Ramakrishna Centre of South AfricaThe morning of 30th May saw the departure for Northern Natal centres. The team – consisting Most Revered Vice-President Maharaj accompanied by Swami Jnanavratanandaji, Swami Saradanandaji, Dr H B Parbhoo, Dr Seebaran and Bhavanesh – arrived at Newcastle by 1 pm. In the evening a special Satsang was arranged in the Centre’s Shrine where to the packed hall, Swami Smarananandaji Maharaj spoke on ‘Peace in Daily Life’. Next day morning after breakfast, the team drove to Ladysmith where the poor children of Ramakrishna Quedisisi Crèche, situated in the Black Settlement Area warmly greeted Revered Maharaj. He distributed packets of breads, biscuits, cakes and juices along with writing materials among the children.

Swami Smarananandaji giving breads etc to the Black children of Ramakrishna Quedisisi CrecheAt 11 am he reached a School premises where more than 500 indigent Black/Indian people gathered. He gave away the hampers and also spoke a few words of consolation first in English and then for a few minutes spoke, to the delight of the aged people assembled there in Tamil and Hindi. In the evening, he visited the Ladysmith Sub-centre and prostrated at the beautiful shrine before the Holy Trio. He met devotees and also the newly initiated disciples and gave them spiritual guidance.

On 1st June, a public Reception Programme had been arranged by the Ladysmith Sub-centre in the famous 115-year old stately Town Hall where Revered Maharaj spoke on ‘Contemplation in Active Life’. The centre’s children-devotees presented an interesting folk dance item.

Swami Smarananandaji at sunrise in DrakensburgIn the evening, he with Jnanavratanandaji left Ladysmith and reached Ramesh Ishwarlaal’s Retreat Home at Drakensberg. The assembled devotees had meditation and Readings from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. 2nd June was spent on discussion on Upanishads, Conversations of Holy Mother and Meditation. In the day time Revered Maharaj and the devotee team went to see the Bird Show in Drakensberg where the well-trained birds like vultures, falcons, owls and also dogs performed to the delight of tourists.Swami Smarananandaji conducting a Retreat in Ladysmith

On 3rd June, Revered Maharaj and the team while returning stopped for an hour at Pietermaritzburg Sub centre. In this beautiful shrine Revered Maharaj was received with arati and traditional welcome with garlands. While speaking to the devotees there he paid homage to Swamis Nischalanandaji and Shivapadanandaji for their endless efforts in spreading ‘Ramakrishna thoughts’ among the public. He added that Ramakrishna has become a ‘permanent citizen’ of this country.

Reaching Durban back at the headquarters centre, he went to Sri Sarada Devi Ashram located at Asherville in the evening. He was accorded a warm reception by Pravrajika Ishtaprana and other nuns and women devotees. He spoke in the beautiful shrine on ‘Katha Upanishad’ underlying the prominent ideas chapter-wise.

There was no outing on the 4th June which was the last day in his itinery. The day of course saw numerous devotees having darshan as well as receiving spiritual guidance from the Most Revered Vice-President Maharaj. His visit will ever remain etched strong in our memories as it gave enormous opportunity for all of us to see, walk and laugh too, besides drawing inspiration in our onward spiritual journey.