Yesterday I found myself taking styrofoam-encased lunches from the hands of a doctor and putting them into the hands of poor Basotho -- children and women and men -- one after another after another.
I was just one cog in an assembly line of food distribution. The pace was rapid, with wranglers urging the long line of children -- separate from the long line of adults -- to move quickly past me as I did my best to keep up. A lunch would come into my right hand, I'd pass it to my left hand, then pass it into the hands of the next child, even as my right hand was accepting the next lunch.
Yesterday was World AIDS Day, and the food distribution was part of a large-scale HIV-testing event planned and paid for by the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative, a close working partner of TTL's.
The event was supported by TTL and a host of other groups -- including Kick 4 Life, which uses the influence of sports to fight HIV, and the Ministry of Health. Counselors and nurses from the Mokhotlong Hospital and the St. Martin clinic were on hand, as were representatives from the World Food Programme, Peace Corps and a few other organizations.
Aside from lunch time, which saw all hands on deck helping with distribution, Team TTL -- Eric, Matello and I -- spent the day weighing and measuring all children under five, screening them for malnutrition.
About 200 people, many of them young students, were tested for HIV and given a free meal, and TTL screened about 20 children. A handful were underweight, and we are going to follow up with them as potential clients.
In the morning we set up tents around the local school, and various testing stations were established therein. TTL was stationed in a classroom with a dirt floor, a few posters of multiplication tables and fractions on the walls and a crumbling drywall ceiling that was falling to pieces beneath the corrugated metal roofing. With us were a few nurses from Mokhotlong Hospital who were giving immunizations to the same kids we were seeing.
Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, we weighed and measured kids as they cried for fear of the scale and the length board. I got peed on twice, which is par for the course.
At moments when the stream of babies slowed, I watched out the window as school children stood in single file lines, waiting for their turn to be tested. Many of them were completely without their caregivers, and I thought about how scary the process could potentially be.
Their status wasn't told to them right away after the test. Instead, different cards were handed out requesting them to return to the clinic with their caregivers at different times for the results. This made me feel a little better, but I felt bad for the kids nonetheless.
Still, their being tested is important, and events like this one make a real difference.
As the long day winded down, we again packed the vehicle with the tents and climbed inside. Two counselors from Mokhotlong Hospital had gotten a ride with us, and climbed in again for the bumpy two hour ride back to Mokhotlong.
On the ride back, I pictured again the smiling faces of the children as they rushed past me and I stuck a lunch into their waiting arms, saw again the little red ribbons pinned on their shirts that signified they'd been tested.
World AIDS Day 2010. What a day, I thought.