It's a twenty minute drive from central Durban out to Mariannhill Monastery, but out there it's another world altogether. Predominantly rural, huts and small infomal houses dot the landscape. At one end of this sprawling and poverty stricken area is the monastery, a beautiful group of buildings that appear distinctly East European in design. This Trappist Monastery, now well over a hundred years old has played a considerable developmental and community role in the area. There's a school, hospital, various agricultural programmes and learnerships, as well as some beautiful chapels and church buildings. Like most other religious orders worldwide, new converts to the monastic way of life are dwindling fast.
At St. Mary's Hospital, part of the Monastery, a lot of work is being done to care for HIV patients. In the hospital, there is a section that looks after young kids, some of whom have little hope for recovery with the disease having progressed just too far.
In the community, there is an encouraging programme to get HIV positive people on an ARV programme. The programme, funded with US drugs appears to be working well. We visit a family deep in the heart of rural Mariannhill to administer a supply of ARV's and to check on progress. It's a touching scene, seeing caring health practitioners making a real difference to the lives of rural people. One such person is Sister Regina, whose dedication and committment is clear, and it's underscored by a deep sense of humanity and empathy.
I take various images around the small settlement, and as we leave, the sky is beginning to take on the colours of evening. The whole family that we visited climb up the steep hill along a small path to see us off in our vehicle in the gathering dusk. Back at Marianhill, an AIDS symbol is both a beacon of help and a warning of the issues South Africa has to face, with a growing number of children orphaned by AIDS an an ARV programme that has been slow to start and controversial at best.
Back home editing the images, one realises how much of one's emotions are shielded by having a camera between you and your subject. Just as well, I suppose, otherwise this sort of story would be much, much harder to do.
Images from this story were published in the 2007 book "Kaelo - Stories of Hope", published by Macmillan
Cameras: Nikon D2x, D50