Visiting the Denis Hurley Centre: International AIDS Conference 2016

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Niko Kowell

First off, I’d like to say that this conference is intense. There is so much to process. More to come on my thoughts on the conference overall in my next blog, but today I want to focus on the engagement tour I participated in. On this tour, I was able to see the Denis Hurley Centre in downtown Durban. This centre serves the homeless and poor in Durban. It has a medical clinic, job development programs with a focus on building skills around entrepreneurship, a kitchen, and much more. You can view their website at www.denishurleycentre.org. I specifically chose this tour, because it seemed the most similar to A&PI Wellness Center. I also wanted to see what was similar and what was different.

The Denis Hurley Centre is a four story building with a free medical clinic that sees 80-100 people a day. That’s roughly 2,000 people a month. They spend $40-$50,000 Rand a month just on meds for their clients. They also feed 300 people, two times a day, 5 days a week. They do all of this and more on an annual budget of $3.9 million Rand. That comes out to about $270,000 US dollars. There are only 2 paid staff who are supported by a huge team of unpaid volunteers, many who volunteer at the equivalent of a full time job.

This is incredibly humbling as I reflect on our organization. We do incredible work, but we have a much larger budget and a big team of paid staff. What could we even do with a budget of $270,000? Despite this, they are able to provide the community with a huge range of vital services.

One job development program they have, is working with homeless men to provide tours of the local markets. These places are seen as dangerous for tourists to go alone. I, of course, jumped at this opportunity. Four men came with us in their Denis Hurley vests. They took us through 5 local markets, where I saw the biggest heads of lettuce I have ever seen, beautiful art, “medicines” of all types, and even enema kits made from water bottles and tubing. But the highlight for me was the meat market. It was filled with all types of meat and heads of various animals, mostly sheep and cows. Many items I didn’t even recognize, which were in the process of being butchered. Not one bit was left behind. The guys were gracious, attune to our safety, and provided us stories along the way. One even told me that his mother had been working at a market for years.

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Everything about this trip has been humbling, but nothing more than this engagement tour, seeing the real Durban. They told us that when the AIDS conference came to town, cops started rounding up the homeless because they were embarrassing. As disgusted as I was hearing this, we know that this happens everywhere, including San Francisco. This made me exceptionally proud of both Centers, A&PI Wellness Center and Denis Hurley Centre, because with dignity and respect, we serve those other folks who people are ashamed of and embarrassed by. Let’s keep up the good work and remain humble while doing so.

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