December 27, 2003 - Star Gazette: Heather Smith is working in Swaziland with the Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Swaziland: Peace Corps Swaziland: The Peace Corps in Swaziland: December 27, 2003 - Star Gazette: Heather Smith is working in Swaziland with the Peace Corps

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Heather Smith is working in Swaziland with the Peace Corps

Heather Smith is working in Swaziland with the Peace Corps

Horseheads grad in Africa to fight HIV/AIDS
Neighbors column by JOHN P. CLEARY

Heather Smith just can't seem to say no to hard work.

Heather Smith, left, shown visiting with friends, is working in Swaziland with the Peace Corps. The identity of the woman and child in the photo was not available.

Smith, a 1989 Horseheads High School graduate, worked for six years as an occupational therapist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. It was work that suited her.

"She loves children," said Heather's mother, Elaine Smith of Horseheads. "And she's not a sit-down kind of person. She likes to be up and busy and moving. And she liked the practical side of the job, to be able to help and see the development of children."

But six years is a long time to work with sick children.

"That's a high burn-out kind of thing," Elaine said. "In most of those cases, the kids were in critical condition. The fatality rate was very high."

And so Heather sought a new way of life. She found one, but she didn't leave hard work behind.

Heather is living in a hut in Qomintiba, Swaziland, a small nation tucked between South Africa and Mozambique in southeastern Africa. She's there organizing an HIV/AIDS prevention education program for the Peace Corps. Joining the Peace Corps was a lifelong dream, her mother said.

"She'd often talked about doing that kind of work," Elaine said. "She liked to travel -- we all travel quite a bit -- and I just knew, after she started working at Children's Hospital, that she would end up doing this."

Heather arrived in Swaziland on Sept. 18. She spent a training period in Manzini where she picked up some of the Swati language and a lot of information on the African AIDS epidemic. The CIA World Factbook reports that in 2001, more than a third of Swaziland's adults, more than 170,000 men and women, were infected with HIV or suffering from AIDS.

Heather expects to spend two years in Swaziland. Elaine said Heather's biggest challenge will be to dispel the myths that surround the disease. For example, Heather told Elaine that many Swazi men believe that having sex with a virgin will take away their HIV infection, and as a result, many young women and girls have been raped.

Elaine said Heather will organize programs to teach people methods to prevent infection. It's a daunting task, especially considering the conditions in which she's working and living.

"One thing that stood out when I thought about it was the outdoor latrine and lack of water -- they don't have fresh water at all -- and the insects not withstanding, is just the way they view women in that area. It's appalling.

"I'm concerned because she's a very independent, strong-willed person, and I am worrying about her taking that attitude to a place where women are thought of as second-class with no rights."

Heather is the daughter of Elaine, a retired teacher, and Ronald T. Smith, a human relations and affirmative action officer at Mansfield University. She has four siblings: Kimberleigh Smith of New York City, Tim Smith of North Carolina, Jay Smith of Elmira and Katie Smith, a student at Horseheads High School.

Despite their concerns, Heather's family is very proud of her. Elaine said Heather's already reached some people. When visiting an orphanage, Heather took out her guitar and sang some songs she composed about HIV and AIDS.

"She was very well received by the younger kids," Elaine said.


Happy 28th birthday to Bronson Berhannan.

John P. Cleary is a staff writer for the Star-Gazette. If you have a news item about a neighbor, give John a call at 607/271-8293 Monday through Friday. Or call toll-free 800/836-8970. His e-mail address is Send birthdays and anniversaries in writing, and they should be received at least five days before the event. Neighbors runs daily.

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Story Source: Star Gazette

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Swaziland



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