When His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama visited South Africa in November 2004, the Tibet Society of SA (TSSA) co-ordinated a two-day event in Durban during which the Dalai Lama gave teachings on aspects of the Buddhist philosophy. As is the practice of the TSSA Committee in hosting such events, the balance of funds raised through the visit after all expenses had been paid, was offered to the Dalai Lama for support of Tibetan humanitarian projects, particularly those centred on the Tibetan refugee community.
His Holiness graciously accepted the offering, blessed it and returned it to the Society, saying that the money should remain in South Africa. His wish was that a portion of the funds be used for the specific purpose of HIV/AIDS care, focusing on assistance for those individuals and families who are unable to pay for medicine to help alleviate their condition. In fulfilling this request, the TSSA and the Office of Tibet SA had managed the funds so that two HIV/AIDS projects would each receive R10 000; the remaining money is set aside for ongoing education on the Tibetans’ freedom struggle and promotion of their history and culture in South Africa, and to cover the costs of a possible future visit to South Africa by the Dalai Lama.
The selection of HIV/AIDS care beneficiaries was not difficult: over the last few years, a close association with a self-help centre called Jabulani, situated in the Mariannhill (Pinetown) area of KwaZulu-Natal province, has been developed by several TSSA Committee members. Sister Marco, a nun and trained nurse from the Mariannhill Mission, started the Jabulani project some 16 years ago, and her team of volunteer helpers provide crèche and after-care services for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Jabulani also serves as a point of outreach to their families and members of the surrounding community who seek help, compassion and confidentiality.
Woza Moya is another struggling self-help organisation which is well known to Committee members and is located in Ixopo, near the Buddhist Retreat Centre in KZN province. It is run by Sue Heddon and T C Ngcobo, who are dedicated to helping people afflicted by HIV/AIDS through home-based care and education. The organisation has been running for five years and attended to 1 980 people during the last three months alone. Says Sue: “We have a number of HIV-positive patients needing medication and support who have not been enrolled for ARV treatment at government sites because their CD4 cell counts are still above 200. We greatly appreciate this gift from the Dalai Lama and the Tibet Society; although there is deep stigma and non-disclosure around HIV and AIDS in our area, we will monitor and give feedback on the progress of those who benefit from it.” The report is sent by Judith King, Media and Publications Consultant for the Centre for HIV/AIDS Networking at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban and a longstanding member of the Tibet Society of South Africa.