Earlier this year, as part of my field visits to GlobalGiving projects in South Africa, I had the wonderful pleasure of visiting the Topsy Foundation.
The Clinic: A Community Sanctuary
When I stepped out of the car, I remember thinking instantly that the atmosphere felt very different from other clinics I had visited (i.e. busy, harried, over-crowded); the Topsy clinic, in contrast, was located on very spacious grounds, complete with a parking lot, beautiful, tall trees, and patches of green grass on which a group of women and children were socializing. It was lunchtime during my visit, so groups of people were in line to get their sandwiches and drinks. I learned that Topsy feeds all their patients so that they can take their medication, a great incentive for people (who can't always afford to eat regularly) to keep coming back. At the clinic, I spoke with a few doctors and pharmacists, who were proud to show me the stock of medicine behind the counter; apparently, South Africa's government has recognized Topsy's work by making them a distribution hub for HIV/AIDs medication, which is great news for Topsy's patients. They get to visit a clinic that is well-resourced and supported.
Fostering a Women's Social Enterprise
Topsy also provides economic empowerment opportunities for women. It was a treat to get to visit Topsy's skill-training center where they employ women in bead-making and sewing. Here, I learned that the women who work at the skill-training center are in charge of fulfilling custom orders from Topsy's patrons (e.g. conferences who prefer to give their attendees hand-crafts vs. USB drives, for instance). All the women I met seemed very happy and eager to show me the designs and crafts they were working on, including tote handbags and an adorable line of dolls for kids.
More Than Home Visits: Supporting Families Through Loss
Though the clinic is in a remote area, the communities that Topsy serves are even further away. And so Topsy owns a charter of buses that they use to pick up their patients from their homes every day. I got on one of the buses, and we went into the communities, where I met with the social workers whose job it is to check on people who have been diagnosed. Additionally, they also hand out food parcels to really impoverished families (many of whom have lost their primary caretaker due to HIV/AIDS).
I met a woman who was caring for five orphaned children (none of who are her own). She's in her 70s. She hasn't been able to locate any of the documents that the govt needs to process support for the five children that she's been caring for, so she relies on Topsy's program for basic needs. In the case of orphan children, the government actually gives some monetary support to grandmothers or other caregivers who care for them after their parents have passed. So Topsy helps caregivers, such as the old woman I met, through the legal process. Thus, while she and the five children are awaiting approval for government support, Topsy's food parcels are literally saving their lives.
Gardens of Hope
Finally, I visited a few vegetable gardens in the township as well. Another arm of Topsy's comprehensive HIV/AIDS care is equipping families to feed themselves and sell vegetables. Amidst the dusty grounds and dulled brick of township living, I saw beautiful, vibrant patches of green. "Spring onions, carrots, bitter leaf, cabbage..." an old woman told us, proudly. It would be a great harvest for her family -- including herself and three adopted children, who'd been orphaned by AIDs. Despite the circumstances, looking at that patch of garden, and the pride in that woman's eyes as she proclaimed that her garden was the best in the village, I felt hope.
Thank you so much to Helen McKenzie and the rest of the on-site staff for organizing such an educational, eye-opening, inspiring visit, and for giving Topsy -- and the communities it serves-- so much of your hearts.
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