All the fun of the woman’s health fair

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The South African government has a policy of allocating themes or campaigns to particular months. May (or Motsheganong in Tswana) is Anti-tobacco campaign month. I arrived late in June (Seetebogiso) in time to prepare for the coming month of Moral Regeneration. September (Lweetse) is the height of the themed month’s season with nine topics to focus on: Heritage, Tourism, Public Service and Administration of Public Service, Heart Awareness, Deaf People, Childhood Cancer Awareness, Oral Health, Muscular Dystrophy Awareness and Albinism Awareness. August (Phatwe) was rather dull with only women* to be aware of.

Project Hope wishes to promote means of maintaining and managing health throughout the year. So a Women’s Health Fair in Mshenguville was arranged for July (Phukwi) while volunteer Malendie Gaines (Public Health PhD student from East Tennessee State University) was still on assignment and the price of hiring a tent low. On the day we weren’t the only tent in town. Across the road a much larger and permanently pitched tent was being used by a local church group for prayers and hymns. They were making good use of their bank of PA speakers. At the same time Saffiera (Health Promotion Unit) was driving up and down the road in the Project Hope van drumming up business for our event through a loud hailer. Meanwhile a drowned out Betty, head of Project Hope South Africa, officially opened the fair. Quite a crowd had gathered. In the audience were two smartly dressed young men in what to me looked like school uniforms. These local councillors wriggled in their seats while playing Sonic the Hedgehog on their mobile phones not noticing that a rival political party, drawn by the commotion, had begun canvassing nearby.

The fair itself was deemed successful on the day; over 160 women visited all the stands, consulted with health experts and collected informative and relevant health education materials. The local clinic was invited and attended but decided that the setting might not be the best for offering HIV testing. Somehow Malendie was able to discretely distribute condoms to those requesting them. Further evidence that the event had been a success came later when members of the Munsieville Community Work Programme’s Men’s Group approached me to ask when’s the men’s health fair? On this one I’m with the government, next Seetebogiso it’ll have to be.

* The monthly campaigns that are best acknowledged are those that are also linked to historical events that happened during the same month. For example, 9th August is National Women’s Day and marks the anniversary of the women’s march of 1956 where about 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against legislation aimed at tightening the apartheid government’s control over the movement of black women in urban areas.