Tanzania is where the heart is: students partner with non-profit to raise HIV awareness

By MD Correspondant

Mustang Daily, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo via UWIRE

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, often spreads within Tanzanian families due to misconceptions about contraceptives and the spread of the virus.

One Heart Source — a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching HIV awareness in the country — aims to eradicate that problem. One Heart Source, created in 2008 by UCLA graduate students Jessica Gu and Hori Moroaica, is also under the HIV Prevention Club on campus. Volunteers from the organization, such as parks, recreation and tourism sophomore Kendra Reay, teach basic education and HIV prevention to Tanzanian children.

One Heart Source volunteers stay in a home stay, a Tanzanian family’s home, when they go to the country.

Reay said when she worked with One Heart Source in Tanzania last year, she saw how families were separated by work structures.

“I only met the father of my home stay once throughout my whole trip because he was a civil engineer and had to work further away from the village his family is living in,” Reay said.

In Tanzania, an eastern African country, nearly half of approximately 2.4 million orphans were orphaned as a result of the AIDS epidemic.

Tanzania, a country where more than half of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, has a culture unlike America’s, Reay said. Mud huts are common structures for houses, and a wealthy family would have land to grow their own crops or raise animals such as chickens and cows.

Chai tea is traditionally served as breakfast, while lunch and dinner usually consist of a type of bread known as chapatti, rice and beans. Fruits and vegetables such as corn, bananas, oranges and avocados are main staples in the Tanzanian diet, Reay said.

Eric Jorgensen, a materials engineering senior, had never experienced the Tanzanian diet before his One Heart Source trip.

“I’ve never really been to a Third World country and seen poverty on that level,” Jorgensen said. “You just get so completely immersed in a culture so different from us with mud huts, no television, no electricity. You experience different things like getting water from the well.”

Another “different thing” volunteers such as Jorgensen encounter on their trips is the taboo nature of AIDS and HIV in cultures like Tanzania. Contraceptives such as condoms are believed to be improper and a waste of sperm; therefore, they are not used as often as they should be. One Heart Source teaches that condoms are effective in preventing conception and the sexual transmission of infections, including HIV.

Talia Borgo, a kinesiology sophomore, is a coordinator for One Heart Source who plays an active role in choosing and teaching applicants.

“We teach basic hygienic and sexual education, including the ‘ABC’ curriculum,” Borgo said. “‘A’ for abstinence, ‘B’ for being faithful and ‘C’ for condoms.”

Methods like the ‘ABC’ curriculum help to curb rumors, such as that condoms have HIV in them, Borgo said.

Reay, who will volunteer in Tanzania again this summer, communicated to her host family through hand and body gestures.

One Heart Source volunteers go through pre-field training before going on their  four-week or eight-week programs in Tanzania. In the training, they learn the curriculum to teach the children in Tanzania, and how to get their message across through sentence-by-sentence translation by a Tanzanian translator in the classroom, Reay said.

Through posters and various comprehensive games, volunteers try to remove the stigma children have regarding HIV, including the spread of the disease through playing or touching someone. Volunteers teach different curriculum depending on the age group they are assigned to, Reay said.

For children below eighth grade, volunteers usually tutor English and math because they are too young to understand the concepts of HIV. Children from eighth grade through high school are educated about the biology of human cells, transmission of HIV infections and ways to prevent transmission, Reay said.

Jorgensen, who is also a project manager for One Heart Source, said pre-field training is important to prepare volunteers for their trip.

Basic Swahili, which is the national African Bantu language, is also taught to volunteers, Jorgensen said.

There is a program fee of approximately $2,200 or $3,200, depending on whether a volunteer chooses to stay for four weeks or eight weeks. It covers the expenses of transportation to and from the airport and home stays, but flight expenses are separate. Fundraising regularly helps volunteers fund their trips, Jorgensen said.

Borgo lived in a home stay in the Maasai tribe of Tanzania. Preparing to return this summer to volunteer again, Borgo was unable to forget the last night she had in Tanzania when she volunteered last year.

“In the Maasai tribe, women weren’t supposed to show any emotional expression,” Borgo said. “On that last night, Mama had to pull me back in the backyard, to tell me that she loved me through tears, which brought me to tears, too.”

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