Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Happy Birthday TTL!

Today TTL turns 8 – and we’re feeling pretty good about it. That’s eight years of being the one who is willing to go where no one else goes. Eight years of helping families and communities fight back against the HIV epidemic. Eight years of changing the lives of children, working to make sure that they get the opportunity to celebrate their own richly deserved birthdays.

But instead of simply patting ourselves on the back on a job well done, I thought I would share what some of the caregivers TTL is currently supporting have to say about us –

“They are helpful people who help those in need with a smile”
 ­– Grandmother caring for a 4 year old child who was referred to TTL because of malnutrition. The child’s mother is away in South Africa trying to find work.

“My family is no longer spending sleepless nights because of the child’s illnesses.”
-Aunt and Uncle caring for an HIV+ child whose mother passed away from HIV-related causes. TTL has been supporting the family since October 2011, including a three month stay in the safe-home

"There have been positive achievements from TTL's services, especially for my child who managed to live because of TTL's services and he is now grown up. I had five children who passed away because I did not know I needed to attend clinic services and access HIV testing and counselling."
-HIV positive mother with twins. TTL has supported the family since the twins were only a few weeks old. They will celebrate their first birthday in July.

“Outreach workers are very cooperative people as they teach us how to feed our children. They encourage us to produce vegetables so that we can have more food. They have love for the babies. When they come to see [the babies] they want to know about their lives in detail”
-The caregiver of a TTL client who was brought to the safe-home after being hospitalised for kwashiorkor. Both the mother and father of the child have passed away from TB and there are 10 other people in the household, 8 of whom are under 18. The child was able to return home in February 2012 where the Outreach team continues to work with his Aunt to ensure his health and development stay on track.

“There have been changes because other villagers got tested [for HIV] and are able to feed their children in an acceptable manner”
 –HIV + mother and child, TTL has supported the child from age 6 months to today (child is 20 months)

“TTL has done wonders for me of which I did not expect”
–Mother of TTL client who was referred for malnourishment. The family was referred to TTL because the mother is suspected of having cancer and was ill and unable to breastfeed. The mother is the only adult in the household and there is no income so the child was being fed sugar water before TTL’s support.

“TTL has helped me in so many ways. I am encouraging it to continue to help other children who will need help like my child”
-Grandmother of a child TTL started supporting at 3 months after the death of his mother from HIV-related causes. There are 11 other people in the household, six of whom are children.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

singing voices

Music blaring from stereo systems combined with clapping, cheers, and flag waving as pick-up trucks drive around town promoting their party of choice in the upcoming national election.

The same five songs on repeat at Big China - the largest grocery store on the main street.

Muffled hymns from inside aluminium siding walls as I walk by one of the many churches in town on my way down to the river.

Baritone voices set in time to marching feet as the local defense force passes TTL on their daily run through town.

Men, women, and children -hundreds of voices singing in unison- as we walk through the streets of town to stand up for two children whose lives were cut far too short by violence.

Soft harmonies and swinging arms as the safe-home bo’me teach a four year old girl a traditional Basotho dance.

This is the soundtrack to Mokhotlong – and one that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

a little time

Ideally, TTL aims to have children in the safe-home for an average of 3-months, hoping this is enough time for them to recover and return to their families. Obviously some children face challenges or difficult home situations that require a longer stay in the safe-home.  But when a child can successfully return home within three months it’s a double success. If a child can be reunited, it means they’re out of the danger zone. It’s time for the family to resume care with the important added support of TTL’s Outreach workers. It’s this model that supports long-term health for vulnerable children.

Last Friday, one of TTL’s safe-home babies was able to return home. Ntsoareleng spent two months in the safe-home recovering from severe malnutrition. She is a real sweet heart and I already miss her smiling face.
When Ntsoareleng first arrived at TTL it was hard to get her to finish a meal. Give her a piece of bread and she would take a few bites and try to hide the rest. Even children understand food insecurity. When you’re not sure when you’re next meal will come, it makes sense to try to make it last. Luckily within a week, Ntsoareleng started to trust that five meals would consistently come every day.

She soon recovered her strength and started walking again. It’s thrilling watching a child walk after a period of weakness and immobility. Unlike toddlers taking their first steps, there’s no hesitation. Once they feel like they can manage weight on their legs again, they’re off and running.

Captured in photographs her two-month recovery is incredible. In reality, it’s the result of some food, a lot of love, and a little time.
Arriving at the safe-home late March 2012, age 20 months
Safe-home departure: May 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Mother's Strength

Each day here, we witness the immense strength children exude.

Although ever-present, we rarely comment on the figures of profound strength standing behind these little ones.



The bo’me who look after the safe-home babies each day.

It is with deep conviction and courage that these women care for the children in their lives.

Like mothers around the world, these women invest more of themselves in the children they love than can be comprehended and expressed in words.

The strength of women in this country…the women who love and care for the children of Lesotho…is something to be recognized.

With the impending arrival of Mother’s Day (in the US and Canada, at least), I think it is only fair that we acknowledge this important pillar in the work we do.

Without these women…without their strength, courage, and love, Touching Tiny Lives could not do what we do.
Retselisitsoe and his grandmother.
Reflecting on motherhood in a country like Lesotho brings up a myriad of subjects: maternal mortality, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, the orphan crisis.

The intricacies of these issues certainly cannot be dissected in one short blog post, but the mere mention may serve to illuminate the challenges women and mothers face here.

Grandmothers find the strength and resolve to parent infants and toddlers upon the devastating loss of their own children to AIDS.

Mothers cradle newborns on their backs while threshing the wheat needed to keep their family alive.

Young sisters shoulder the responsibility of motherhood when they are the last in their family with the strength to do so.

Each day, mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and sisters stand strong and carry on with the duties of motherhood…pushing these seemingly insurmountable hurdles aside…raising beautiful, strong African children. 

And for that we say thank you and happy Mother's Day!
Ntsoareleng and Me' Mamosa, the safe-home coordinator.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

helping hand from the hospital

A guest post from one of TTL's current volunteers, Kat Stott...
In a previous post, Julie described the immense challenges faced by the people of Lesotho in terms of the scale of this devastating HIV epidemic, compounded by alarmingly low numbers of healthcare professionals per population and often seemingly impossible access to care.

I thought I'd add a bit of detail about the reality of the conditions at Mokhotlong District Hospital for patients and staff, and the commendable way in which that reality is addressed in order to provide the best possible care for residents of the district, including the children at TTL.

I'm a doctor from the UK and am really grateful to TTL for the opportunity to volunteer with them for a while here in Mokhotlong. I've been dividing my time between TTL and the hospital, both of which experiences have been eye-opening and educational. 

The hospital is staffed by five doctors from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It provides medical care for anyone who makes it to the front door - be their needs medical, surgical, obstetric, pediatric, psychological or traumatic. The outpatient department is a small building, housing four consultation rooms and a waiting room full of patients that overflow onto the driveway from around 8am each day, until everyone has been seen. The inpatient wards are basic but provide safety and relative comfort during patients' stay. There are two operating rooms, and one room that constitutes the emergency room - this is sufficient because most emergency cases are unable to make it to the hospital to seek urgent care. The doctors work a rotational on-call system, which entails taking turns to be the emergency doctor for all hospital departments including the labour ward, operating rooms and casualty, for seven days in a row, 24 hours per day. This makes my work schedule from the UK seem like a breeze – I work a maximum of four nights on-call in a row, sleep during the day after each shift, and am only on-call for one department or specialty at any one time.

Even basic resources at the hospital are scarce, with no hot running water, overused bedclothes often with large holes in them, and staff shortages across all professions. This week has been a particularly difficult one, with the xray machine- the only imaging modality in the hospital- out of order, and two very commonly required medications now out of stock in the entire country.

The nature of illness encountered here is very different to that which I have seen in the UK, mainly in terms of the burden of HIV and TB, and also the late stage at which patients present to services. This is due to a number of factors, some of which are mentioned above; in addition there is generally a relatively limited level of health awareness, reluctance to seek care due to financial implications in terms of direct cost of services and opportunity costs, and often cultural barriers to health-seeking behavior.

Despite these challenges, the hospital staff work without complaint to provide the best service they can for the many patients in need.  Emphasis is placed not only on the management of illness in its acute phase, but also on health education and follow-up to ensure clinical improvement. For the children here at TTL, the hospital offers a safety net and a vital role in their treatment and development. I hope the admirable attitude of the doctors, nurses and other staff there is maintained and that the relationship between the hospital and TTL continues to strengthen, to promote the best possible care for Mokhotlong’s vulnerable children for years to come. 

The Mokhotlong Government Hospital
Construction at the hospital in the TB ward
One of TTL's babies, Tsepang, admitted at hospital for a high fever
Tsepang back in the safe-home and on the road to recovery