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Help this HIV heroine to hold on to her home
$1,350 raised
44% of $3.1k goal
11 contributors
0 days left
Ended Aug 21, 2017
Fanelwa Gwashu - a heroine of the fight against HIV in South Africa - stands to lose her two bedroom home in the township of Khayelitsha unless she can urgently come up with the R40'000 (US$3068) she owes the former owners.

Hi, my name is Sean Christie; I'm a South African journalist and the author of Under Nelson Mandela Boulevard - Life Among the Stowaways. I want to appeal to you today on behalf of an impressive friend of mine named Fanelwa Gwashu, who urgently needs to raise R40'000 (US$3068) if she is to hold on to her home in the township of Khayelitsha (‘Our new home’).

If you're wondering how on earth a fairly minor case of property debt merits your attention, let alone your financial support, please bear with me. Fanelwa’s life story is an astounding one, and her contribution to the fight against HIV in South Africa is particularly humbling. Her inability to repay the debt in question before the end of August might very well compel her to quit her life's work, which would be a blow not only to the HIV community in Khayelitsha, but to the larger national aim of achieving an HIV-free generation in the near future. That is the short version of my appeal. The longer version begins with Fanelwa’s birth into poverty in 1972, in Zwelethemba (‘We have hope’) Township near Worcester in the Western Cape. After her father died when she was five years old, Fanelwa was raised by her grandmother (her mother, she says, 'was not a responsible person at this time'). When her gran passed away, Fanelwa and her sister entered ikhaya le themba (‘Home of hope’) children's home in East London, staying there 'for some years', until they were claimed by their mother. In 1988, Fanelwa moved to the City of Cape Town to live with an aunt, and attended Masilele High School in the dormitory township of Khayelitsha, which is an immense, crime-ridden shantytown created 30 years ago under the apartheid policy of racial separation. When Fanelwa fell pregnant the following year her aunt was furious, and insisted the child be given up to the father's family. Fanelwa could not bring herself to do this, and after her son's birth in 1990 she ran away, back to her mother in East London, where she took a job as a scullery assistant in a local restaurant. Hardworking and intuitive, Fanelwa was soon employed as a chef's assistant. 12 years later she was back in Cape Town to take up a position of Head Chef, running the kitchen of Red Pepper restaurant in the coastal hamlet of Fishhoek. Her story at this point was one of success against the odds, and although she was living in a shack in the informal settlement of Masiphumelele (‘Let us succeed’), she was happy. In 2004, her life took a dreadful turn. She fell sick, but put it down to work stress. The doctor Fanelwa eventually saw sent her directly to hospital, where she was diagnosed as HIV positive. She was also sick with drug-resistant tuberculosis, cryptococcal meningitis, and she had pneumonia in both lungs. In some respects the timing of her illness was fortunate. South Africa was home, and still is, to the largest HIV epidemic in the world and at the time of Fanelwa's diagnosis the HI virus was responsible for an estimated 50% of all deaths nationally. The South African government had been slow to respond but in 2004 anti-retroviral drugs were made freely available to HIV patients. Fanelwa was an early beneficiary, who survived serious illness. Upon returning to health she took a decision to commit her remaining time and energy to the fight against HIV. She joined the Treatment Action Campaign, an organization that is widely acknowledged as one of the most important civil society organisations active on AIDS in the developing world. Working as a peer educator in a public health clinic in Khayelitsha, she was able to help others to understand and manage HIV. She helped to set up the first patient anti-retroviral treatment (ART) support club in the country. That initiative, which was piloted by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, was adopted by the local health department and rolled out across the province. In 2011, Fanelwa was part of the team that set up the country's first HIV patient community club - a strategy for relieving pressure on the public health system by taking aspects of HIV care (such as the dispensing of medicines) out of facilities and into the homes of certain HIV patients. It is quite difficult to convey the significance of Fanelwa's contribution to anyone who is unfamiliar with issues of HIV treatment in the South African context. Perhaps it is enough to mention that while an astounding 7 million people are living with HIV in South Africa, an equally astounding 3.7million souls and counting have been initiated on treatment, making it possible for them to return to health and live longer lives. Such widespread treatment of HIV was thought to be impossible not so long ago, but South Africa has proven otherwise, in no small part thanks to innovative programs like those that Fanelwa excels at establishing. For South Africa to maintain its progress in the battle with HIV, people with Fanelwa’s dedication, experience and skill are essential. It pained me, as well as many others who know Fanelwa, to learn that she was seriously considering resigning from her job in the hope that her creditors would leave her alone. I feel very strongly compelled to try and help. That is why I am appealing on Fanelwa’s behalf for contributions, however small, towards the remaining cost of her home. She owes R40’000 (US$3068). It isn’t much, but it is beyond her ability to pay. Please help – I personally have not met the person who deserved it more.


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