November 9, 2003 - State Journal-Register: Sydney Kling 's decision to join the Peace Corps after retirement proves it's ... ; Never too late

Peace Corps Online: Directory: South Africa: Peace Corps South Africa : The Peace Corps in South Africa: November 9, 2003 - State Journal-Register: Sydney Kling 's decision to join the Peace Corps after retirement proves it's ... ; Never too late

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - 11:21 am: Edit Post

Sydney Kling 's decision to join the Peace Corps after retirement proves it's ... ; Never too late

Sydney Kling 's decision to join the Peace Corps after retirement proves it's ... ; Never too late

One woman's decision to join the Peace Corps after retirement proves it's ... ; Never too late

Nov 9, 2003 - State Journal-Register Springfield, IL

Author(s): Tamara Browning Staff Writer

During Sydney Kling's two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mpumalanga, South Africa, there was a point where she felt alone, she said.

New to the Ndebile language, Kling didn't know what she could do to help a hurting people affected by HIV/AIDS.

Then, along came a young man and her turning point.

"He had full-blown AIDS - very handsome, very vital young man. He was willing to admit that he had AIDS, and he was going to help me set up support groups," said Kling, 69, a retired registered nurse.

The man asked Kling to go with him to visit a young woman who was dying from AIDS.

"(I said), 'Oh, I can't do that because she won't understand English, and I don't want to take her energy to try to talk with me.' "

But the man insisted, and she went and sat with the woman, held her hand and prayed with her.

"I said, 'Do you want me to come back?' "

The young woman's mother said, "Yes."

Two hours after Kling left, the woman died.

Through that incident, Kling realized she could communicate with the people of Mpumalanga, despite the language barrier.

Kling, who went to South Africa in July 2001 and returned home August of this year, said that her biggest role as an HIV/AIDS educator was to serve as a mentor.

"I learned many, many, many, many words, but putting them into sentences, I couldn't do, and that's about what they did, too," Kling said.

Even so, she said, "It didn't take me long before I knew they were hurting."

Depending on the culture, a person with HIV/AIDS in South Africa can become an outcast, said Scot Roskelley, public affairs specialist with the Peace Corps, Chicago Regional Office.

"For some people, once they are identified as being HIV positive or having AIDS, the stigma attached to it can be significant," Roskelley said.

"It's even worse than it is in the United States. When the word spreads, a person can really be an outcast or ostracized."

South Africa had 5 million people with HIV/AIDS in 2001, the latest statistics available from UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in New York. In 2001 alone, there were 360,000 people who died in South Africa from AIDS. In the same year, there were 660,000 AIDS orphans.

In particular, people between the ages of 20 and 35 are affected, many losing their jobs and unable to support their families, Kling said.

"We gave out a lot of food parcels, and we did a lot of home- based care support. When you walked in, you could see that they were hurting, and that's more than just pain like cancer. They were in pain because they couldn't take care of their families," Kling said.

"You see this fear. You see this hurt," she said. "When somebody's there to support them or supply them with care, then you see the light go on in their eyes."

Kling, who has lived in Springfield about 26 years, retired from the Illinois Department of Public Health in January 2000.

"But I didn't retire from nursing. I wanted to know what to do, but I didn't know what to do," said Kling, who is the mother of Sue Dunbar, John Kling and Mindy Kling of Springfield and David Kling of Westfield, Ind. She has five grandchildren, ranging in age from 11 months to 23 years old.

"I had always been interested in the Peace Corps from 40 years ago. One day I saw a notice ... and I thought ... 'Now I can do the Peace Corps. My children are raised.' "

Officials at the Peace Corps are thrilled when older people apply to become volunteers, Roskelley said. Six percent of Peace Corps volunteers are 50 and older. Currently, there are nine volunteers older than 60 from Illinois serving in the Peace Corps.

"The vast majority of people in the Peace Corps go right after college," Roskelley said. "That's a real natural time for them to do it because they're young, and they don't have any responsibilities and families.

"The next most logical time - when a person in their life has the most freedom - is at retirement."

Roskelley said that the Peace Corps welcomes retired volunteers; however, one of the concerns regarding that group is the state of their health.

"We don't want to put them in harm's way," Roskelley said. "We have certain countries that we like to put older people in that have really good health-care systems, and South Africa is one of them.

"They have such an advanced health-care system there. If anything goes wrong, it can easily be taken care of there."

One of the reasons Kling decided to go into the Peace Corps was because she was healthy, and she realized that many people her age aren't so fortunate.

"They ask you where you would like to go, and I told them I didn't care. I wanted to work in the health field, and I didn't care where I went," Kling said.

Before retiring, Kling worked in genetics and screening newborns, where she spent much of her time convincing people that screening a baby for certain diseases could prevent heartache "down the road." It could, in fact, save lives.

While in South Africa, Kling similarly was convincing people to get screened - for HIV/AIDS.

If they were screened, she said, "they could live a healthier lifestyle, eating more nutritious foods, taking care of themselves health-wise."

"Then they could prevent the infections like tuberculosis and pneumonia that would devastate their immune systems," Kling said. "That's what they died of. They don't die from HIV. They die from what we called 'opportunistic diseases.'

"If they get tested and they find out they're HIV-positive early, they can live a very long time because they can take care of themselves and prevent the opportunistic infections."

Kling set up a series of workshops in seven villages while in South Africa. The topics discussed ranged from general health to HIV/ AIDS.

"It worked," Kling said. "Now the translators are holding their own classes.

"My bottom line is I want support groups. I want them to get tested and to help erase the stigma because what's killing them is not AIDS."

Although Kling doesn't plan to return to South Africa, she misses the people she has fond memories of - in particular, the granddaughter of her host family.

The little girl, who used to wake Kling up in the morning with singing, once asked Kling if she had a heart and brain.

" 'What color is your blood?' I said, 'Red.' She said, 'Why is your hair yellow?' And I said, 'That's just the way I am,' " Kling recalled.

"She said, 'Well, I can't see any difference in us, but I'm dark and you're light.' "

Kling doesn't see any difference, either.

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Story Source: State Journal-Register

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Older Volunteers; COS - South Africa; AIDS, HIV



By Lorraine Matheson ( - on Tuesday, March 28, 2006 - 12:01 pm: Edit Post

Does anyone know where Sydney Kling is now. I worked with Sydney a few years ago and would like to contact her Thanks.

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