Monday, March 31, 2014

The Kukoo’s of Zambia:
Filling in for a Lost Generation

This week we (Ali Lake and Savannah Moody) were placed at the Save a Life Center run by an amazing nurse from South Africa named Lihana. Lihana saw a need in Mongu for families of malnourished children and she was determined to establish a feeding center that helps enable those in need.  The Save a Life Center offers feeding programs that provides weekly rations of local food as well as educational presentations on a weekly basis. Once the family is well established in the program they are given information on how to start and maintain a micro business and micro loans are provided.

Save a Life Center also provides follow up home visits by the incredible community health workers that are employed at the Center. We worked mostly with Annie, the eyes and ears of all the surrounding villages. There isn’t much she doesn’t know.

There is also a clinic attached to the center, both of which are apart of The Village of Hope organization. The clinic sees patient’s on a first come first serve basis. Sometimes patient’s walk for over four hours to get to the clinic.
Us at save a life centre with Annie, Lihana, and Ivy
We were already aware of the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Zambia and knew this disease was responsible for an entire generation lost. It wasn’t until we saw the Kukoo’s (which is Grandmother in Silozi), bring the babies to the clinic and the feeding program that the reality became apparent to us.

Our biggest eye opening moment was when we went on home visits with Annie and we saw many Kukoo’s in the village caring for the young.

There is one particular Kukoo that we will never forget. We met her after walking for a couple of hours through the sandy village of Mbuywana. She was the second home visit of the morning.  The hai (house in Silozi) was made of woven reed from the flood plains, clay walls, and a scrap piece of tin for a roof.  As we walked into her hai, we were both struck with immense sadness. We were taken back by the sight of a woman lying on the dirt floor with only a thin piece of cloth separating her bare skin from the ground. This woman was extremely thin; we could see each individual bone on her body. As we entered the home, her face was hollow and expressionless.

A typical hai  
We asked Annie about the woman, and our suspicions were confirmed; she was the mother of the baby who we were there to see, and she was dying of AIDS. We then learned that the Kukoo was the sole caretaker of the dying mother, the baby, and another young child. When asked how she earned money, Annie told us she goes out into the bush and collects firewood to sell. As there is no one else to care for the baby, this Kukoo has to carry the baby on her back everywhere she goes. It was apparent to us that this Kukoo was extremely overworked and exhausted. A woman of that age, should be relaxing and being a Kukoo; not a mother. The rest of our day was quiet. We both couldn’t get the image of the dying mother out of our heads.
One amazing Kukoo with her 7 month old grandchild
Once back at the clinic, we spoke to Lihana about what we saw and how we felt. We talked about why there is such an epidemic of HIV/AIDS leading to this generation gap. Some of the reasons include: woman relying on trading their bodies for goods and services (survival sex), multiple sexual partners, and a lack of education about how the disease spread. It is unfair that an entire nation must suffer so greatly at the hands of such a devastating disease.

This experience for us has been eye opening and has brought everything we leaned about the generation gap in Zambia to life. We both agree these Kukoos are the hardest working and strongest women we know.

-Ali and Savannah 

Sunset over the Zambezi flood plains 

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