This blog post was contributed by Hellen Kotlolo, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.
I was told a story by Tyler Perry, an African-American actor, director, and writer. He tells a story about a homeless woman who approaches him and as he was searching for a dime in his pockets to give her instead she asked for shoes. He was overcome by emotions and took the woman into the wardrobe studio and asked his wardrobe people to give her shoes her size. As she put the shoes on she started crying, praising God and thanking Jesus, and saying, ‘My feet are off the ground! My feet are off the ground!’ Everyone started crying and so was he. He went after the woman and asked her why she was homeless, she said she had AIDS and she was rejected by her family waiting to get into a shelter. He took her into a neighborhood hotel and asked one of his assistants to check on her and make sure she had enough clothes and food. After one month they lost touch but he never forgot her.
Some time later while shooting for a movie a woman walked up to him. It was the homeless woman. She told him she had a house now and was doing well. She said the little help he had given her had changed her life. For him it was her faith that moved him.
Often on my journey through India there are challenges and I feel like my feet are off the ground yet my eyes are filled with tears and often times I feel like I cannot go on anymore. I read this story and I think about this woman’s faith and praise. I also think about the many women in South Africa who are HIV-positive and living with AIDS who also need a little bit of help. I question myself sometimes if I have everything it takes or the strength to go on, there is definitely unfairness and hardships in the world. We meet people, some who break us and others who build us. We have to be careful not to fall into negativity. Sometimes when I do question myself, the answer is always yes; Yes I do have the strength and everything it takes to go on.
I have spent the month of February, also the month of love, working and thinking about my future project, Lerato –care. Lerato means love in Tswana, my mother tongue. Each day writing the proposal while receiving help and guardianship from Minal Singh and my mentor and Ashoka Fellow Indu Capoor. I know Africa needs me as much as I need it. I am special, important and valued. I have to be ok, to feel the love and care before I can extend it to others.
Since February I’ve made it about me first and my project – putting all my ideas and dreams on paper instead of just talking about them.
CHETNA hosted European Parliamentarians on a study tour of India. I was fortunate to be a part of the study tour as we also traveled to Udaipur visiting other organisations working on maternal health, women’s rights and HIV/AIDS. It was wonderful experience learning about how HIV/AIDS is managed in many Indian states. Interacting with the many of the parliamentarians I was reminded of my love for politics. When I was young I used to tell my mother, I am going to be a politician one day and save the world.
Just like the story Tyler Perry told, many women and children also need just a little help. I still feel very passionate about saving the world and helping women and children worldwide. Below is a photo of a village meeting in Udaipur where women are given health education on nutrition and about their health using health cards. I am learning each day and realising that all the women need is love and care. I was inspired by the many NGOs and health care workers in this area are extending their hands to help. We visited three organisations, one of them a midwifery-based service delivery centre and a Community Care Centre that provides counselling for HIV-positive adults.
Each day is a learning process. In February I learned from politicians, like Britta Thompson, Veronique Mathie, and Nobert Neuser. Yet for us all the most important lessons also come from the heart of where the problems usually are: women, their children, and their families.
And we need to embrace all the women, so that when their feet are off the ground, they can have the strength to keep going on.