No funny business, only Partners in Sexual Health

By Phakamisa Mayaba  / On any given day, peer into our local clinics and see the health troubles of our day writ large along the teeming corridors. Teenage pregnancy. HIV/AIDS. An overburdened public health care system where the dutiful Batho Pele principles posted on the walls are no more than wishful thinking for those who might not get assistance, because the bakkie collecting all the blood tests arrives around 12 noon, and must swiftly leave for other sites.

Committed as they are, bless the hearts of the sometimes overworked employees who, due to no fault of their own, must sometimes turn patients away because the desire to serve is often stymied by logistics and practicality. This – nothing new, and arguably even more dire in the big cities – is evidently something government alone cannot remedy, and has consequently legitimised the need for non-governmental organisations like Partners in Sexual Health (PSH) stepping up to fill the void and haplessness.

Although Number 30, Church Street, Colesberg may be a frugal, unpretentious building of simple décor, what happens inside the local office of PSH is the stuff that got this publication keenly rapping on their door in the swoosh of a brutal cold front one Tuesday afternoon. With 187 health promoters in the organisation’s employ, we thought; Wow! with such staggering youth unemployment figures, now here at last a good story to tell!

Not only does it speak exactly to our national aspirations: youths with a purpose, training, a stipend, but also puts a dent to the often overlooked but most worrisome issue of poverty. In a place where entire households often survive on social grants, these stipends go a long way.

On our visit, we were greeted by a well-spoken, informed and big-hearted provincial coordinator, Monice Goliath. Swathed in a black duster coat, laptop in one hand, bundle of papers clutched under an armpit, but still polite enough not to make us feel we were interrupting on what had evidently been another hectic day at the office.

This time, though, it wasn’t their army of field workers popping in for this or that. Nor was it the thousands of clients whom PSH touch base with every month. Nor the odd walk-in who feels they might find a compassionate, discreet counsellor to talk to. But a march. Nothing to write home about for a resourced corporate, but for an NGO in the platteland to get hundreds of people marching up the streets – that’s something to doff one’s hat to.

In line with their mission, says Goliath, the march was intended to ‘prevent teenage pregnancy’ because PSH is ‘an evidence-based non-profit public benefit organisation that provide[s] sexual and reproductive health and rights services including HIV/AIDS services to men, women and particularly the youth.’

‘The vision,’ she continues, ‘is to empower society on sexual and reproductive health and rights.’ She joined the NGO because being young herself, she likes ‘to work with young people and to make a change in their lives, so that they are able to help themselves at the end of the day’.

Sounds cliched, doesn’t it? Not quite. Here at eParkeni, we mostly work with what we see out there, on the streets, in our squatter settlements, and places like the Plakkerskamp; a neglected, haggard, no-place of squalor. And what do you know? In their blue bibs you would’ve seen these PSH recruits trundling through the muck among the unfenced, spartan dwellings, spreading this message of a healthy sexual and reproductive lifestyle.

As recently as 2016, it was found that the Northern Cape had some of the highest rates of fetal alcohol syndrome in the country. With this in mind, PSH also advocates against alcohol and substance abuse, no doubt a necessary gospel when one considers the matters of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and domestic violence in these crevices where poverty often impels otherwise upright men and women to turn a blind eye to a girl-child resorting to unbecoming behaviour in an attempt to fend for those back at home.

The daily tariff of many of these health promoters sees them traversing the most poverty-ravaged nooks and crannies in a town where life can be really tough – grizzled but surefooted figures out in the rain and bitter cold. On their persons they carry notes, registers and condoms but most importantly the message of a healthy sexual lifestyle.

With offices in Parow Industrial, Beaufort West, Colesberg, Bloemfontein, Burgersdorp (to mention but a few), and employing some 2000 youths, it would be foolhardy to downplay the significance of PSH’s reach. On the day of our visit, the CEO Patsy De Lora, was doing her rounds in their Western Cape office and was due in Bloemfontein – or in some other province – a few days later. But over the phone she proudly told us how many young lives have been changed for the better by PSH and how in turn these youngsters were ploughing back into their own communities.

For her, there is no time to relax. Being an NGO which depends on funding from the Social Employment Fund, managed by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), and a host of other caring sponsors, there are no free lunches. Her time is characterised by long hours on the road, at the office, and generally away from the hubby and kids. But being the good-hearted person that she is, she takes it all in stride. Despite her rabbit race, she’s still there to take calls from a negligible publication.

Being aware of the social ills that affect the Pixley kaSeme region — the health situation, indolent youths whiling their days away in taverns, lipsticked underage girls smiling and winking at men old enough to be their fathers — what PSH does, its work, and its tariff, is something eParkeni can uncork a bottle of good ol’ Oros to and say: You, those unrelenting health care promoters — Patsy, Monice and the IDC – may you some day appreciate the difference you’re making. We do. And it’s incredible.

  • This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on Phakamisa Mayaba’s website  eParkeni.
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