The True Tragedy of AIDS

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The True Tragedy of AIDS When I was in South Africa, I spent some time in a township called Crossroads, which essentially began as a squatter camp for immigrants looking for work near Cape Town. In the late 80s and early 90s, to make room for an alleged development project, the apartheid government tried to relocate the settlers. Whatever the reasons, entire sections of the settlement were razed. Many people did not want to move and, consequently, their resistance was met with arson and both random and targeted violence; many of the victims were women and young children. The settlers' sense of security, albeit loosely bound with wood and corrugated iron, was destroyed. In 1994, as democracy came to South Africa, the settlers who remained began to rebuild their community out of the wreckage of apartheid, only to be confronted by a powerful new enemy: AIDS. For me, Crossroads became an example of the conflicting reality in South Africa today - destruction and resilience, hope and continual struggle. Crossroads is now home to Beautiful Gate, a home for dozens of children living with HIV/AIDS whose parents are either unable to take care of them or have already died. Converted from what was once a place for troubled youth, Beautiful Gate is surrounded by an imposing fence; I thought this was unusual to have around a place for sick children. On the windows are metal bars, which I originally thought were there to protect the children from violence caused by the stigma surrounding AIDS. I was wrong. In fact, the bars are there because people had tried to steal food...because in Crossroads only half of the people can find work and they are desperate to support themselves. Some of us were able to visit Beautiful Gate a couple times, and I remember talking to Francis Herbert, the social worker there. I asked her why she continued to work there. How could she continue to work when essentially no one was listening, when the government was faced with so many problems it couldn't pay attention, when she knew that for every child that stays at Beautiful Gate, dozens, actually thousands, more have no place to go. Why? Francis looked at me with a puzzled face. She does what she does because it has to be done. I see now how obvious that answer was. And I realize now that Francis and others working in similar conditions will keep hitting a brick wall unless people like myself use our knowledge of the severity of AIDS to mobilize international support.
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