SOUND OF TRAFFIC ON MAIN ROAD
KHOPOTSO: You can’t miss this place. House number 4839B on Marthinus Smuts Drive, one of the main roads lively with car and people traffic in Diepkloof, Soweto, was once home to a family. Now the house is home to a whole lot of men from the local community and surrounding townships. The tiny four-roomed home with back-yard rooms and a garage is now called Imbizo, a health project where men can walk in for free HIV counselling and testing, advice on fatherhood, other gender issues and handling depression. But the major emphasis is on HIV and AIDS and men’s response to the virus. Lawrence Ndou is Project Co-ordinator of the Imbizo centre.
LAWRENCE NDOU: Imbizo is a project which was designed by men for men to provide information on health issues and provide Voluntary Counselling and Testing to men in a man-friendly environment’¦ We’re not only focussed on HIV, but HIV is the main focus’¦ We actually saw that men are left behind in the fight against HIV, which renders women to be on their own in this fight. For me it doesn’t make sense because men have been at the fore-front of the struggle against apartheid. Why now? Why do they fall back-wards? So, yes, we thought let’s get men involved.
KHOPOTSO: In comparison to their women counter-parts men’s health-seeking behaviour is notoriously relaxed. Seeking advice is viewed as showing weakness. The project aims to change this attitude.
LAWRENCE NDOU: Because of the cultural issues, the social issues men are more comfortable talking to other men. They cannot go to your typical health care centre and talk about their problems because there the staff is mostly female. Because of the work load they are not generally friendly, especially when coming to men. I personally feel that they’re not so male-friendly. For instance, a man comes in and says ‘I have a problem with my feelings. I don’t like women anymore. I feel that I like men’. Those issues can be misinterpreted. I feel that staff in your typical health care centres can actually put their own moral issues around that. For me, we need to support men in general’¦ Those men need the kind of support which could be the breeding ground for a better society than what we are now. We’re saying at Imbizo you can just come whether you’re gay or you’re straight. You’ll get the kind of support that you deserve.
KHOPOTSO: The centre in Diepkloof has been open for only three months. Thirty-one year old Lawrence Ndou wishes that it could have been operational five years ago when he first discovered that he was HIV-positive himself. He views his role at Imbizo as helping to prevent other men from making the same mistakes that he made.
LAWRENCE NDOU: Personally, the mistake that I did I must say, was to not seek the right information, the right facts. And when I heard a few words about HIV not taking them seriously, not taking them into account, not making sure that I understand. Those are the mistakes that I did. One other mistake that I did, regrettably, was that I decided to have a baby without checking what the situation is with me in terms of my status. And those are the mistakes which can easily be avoided’¦ Unfortunately and regrettably so, my son died when he was two. I must say that that was the most difficult period of my life. There was so much blame within me. I blamed myself for so many things, especially not being able to make the right informed decisions.
KHOPOTSO: Even though as Project co-ordinator he is charged with the overall management of the centre, Lawrence’s own experiences with HIV persuade him to be more hands-on with the men that visit the centre.
LAWRENCE NDOU: I still insist on doing counselling because I believe that the mind is the main frame of everything. A person with a much decisive mind in terms of having facts will in turn make sure that the body is healthy. Again, with a healthy mind a person can actually make the right and informed decisions.
KHOPOTSO: Helping men make informed decisions is what the Imbizo centre is all about. Althought it does not offer a clinical service, counsellors there can refer you to appropriate institutions for proper care and attention. It’s a place where men can talk, laugh and cry about whatever bothers them. And we could all do with a space like that from time to time, couldn’t we?
E-mail Khopotso Bodibe