Poverty is tangible in Elsie’s shack. And that’s her biggest issue. The 54 years old lives in an informal settlement in Gonubi Farmers Hill, East London, South Africa. Her shack is made of pieces of wood, corrugated iron sheets, and cardboard box – whatever has been tucked out by someone else that she can still make use of. It is cold and, raining heavily as we are invited to enter her one room home. Inside it is dark and moist.
Elsie is HIV-positive and the guardian of three children. She looks after her own daughters -eleven and eight years old – and one of her two grand kids, a two year old toddler. Her daughters school at the Nkwezana Priamry School, where they are now getting a nutritious breakfast on school days.
Elsie cannot hold a job currently – due to the heavy side effects of her treatment she is sick too often and therefore not reliable enough for an employer. Her last resort when she needs some rands for the school bus or at times even food is the local loan shark. Inflation has sent prices for commodities up and through the sky; it affects her heavily as the cost for food and paraffin has increased dramatically. And her daughter just started bleeding – which menas that she will have to provide for hygiene pads on a monthly basis as well. The four of them live off three children’s grants – an income equivalent of CHF 81 per months fort he whole family. And South Africa is not a cheap country.
HIV and Aids are not talked about. The silence around the virus is deafening. Everybody feels uncomfortable about the topic. Thus, if you meet neighbours or people you know in the HIV-clinic, everybody is quickly hiding their treatment and looking the other way. Elsie also thinks that it is no good and not necessary to talk about HIV and Aids.
But she likes being visited, likes the feeling that somebody cares. Our social workers regular visits give her the strenght to continue her battle for survival, to take her treatment regularly, to mend the torn clothes and rags of the children once again, to et some food on the table und to care tenderly for the children under her care.