Giving voice to the written word

2011-07-16 08:35

A terrible thing ­happened to Maria Taele when she was on one of her regular rounds ­visiting terminally ill patients in Kagiso on Joburg’s West Rand.

She stopped at the home of a gravely ill woman living with HIV. But the visit ended on a tragic note that left Taele deeply depressed.

“I was not prepared for ­something like that. Every day we see a lot of hardship, but when someone just dies like that, in your arms, it leaves you very stressed,” she says.

Taele (54) is a home-based care­giver from the Bambanani Home Based Care Centre.

When she got back to the ­centre later that day, she ­struggled to shut out images in her mind of the woman dying in her arms.

Tired and unwilling to bother her colleagues with the experience, she turned to the tool she uses to help her patients deal with depression, The Speaking Book, which communicates healthcare messages.

The messages cover mental health issues, HIV/Aids and related ­depression, proper use of medication, malaria, TB and ­hypertension through 16 audio buttons. When pressed, the ­buttons activate a voice prompt that follows a particular ­paragraph in the book.

Each message plays for only 30?seconds while the ­duration of all messages is only eight minutes to ensure maximum concentration levels.

There are also books which offer advice about clinical trials, vaccines for children and advice on how to access various ­government grants.

“We also have a book dealing with self-disclosure, which is aimed at parents who are HIV- positive. Usually people find it difficult to disclose their status to children and children have to understand why they need to take ARVs because they get tired of taking medication,” says the head of the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), ­Elizabeth Matare.

The United Nations and the Economic Commission for ­Africa recently awarded Sadag the information and ­communication technology prize for health innovation for ­initiating the project, which is the first of its kind in the world.

“The world over, uneducated people are ignored on the road to health. It is for those people that The Speaking Book was created,” says Matare.

The books are bought by ­non-governmental organisations involved in healthcare issues and distributed free to ­communities.

They are aimed at ­communities with low literacy and are available in more than 15 ­languages including isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sepedi, Tshivenda and Setswana. They are also ­available internationally in Kiswahili, Portuguese, Mandarin and Spanish. A French version is ­being developed too. Matare says they are also working on a similar book in Braille to cater for visually impaired people.

The local language voice-overs were done by popular singer Zwai Bala, former Generations’ actress Rosie Motene and ­Motsweding FM presenter Tshepo Maseko.

Taele says that in a society overwhelmed by depression as a result of poverty, crime and HIV, The Speaking Book is a welcome intervention.

“Sometimes when people are depressed they don’t want to talk to anyone. We (caregivers) also need counselling. But sometimes we just don’t do it,” she says.

But that day, when a patient died in her arms, she knew that she couldn’t just ignore the flashbacks and feeling of

“I just sat down and paged through The Speaking Book. For a long time I sat there ­listening to the messages. I felt much better afterwards,” says Taele.

On a chilly afternoon, Irene Selebogo (27) sits on a sofa in the backyard shack she shares with her mom in ­Extension 12, Kagiso, reading and listening to The Speaking Book.

The voice prompts and ­colourful illustrations seem to fascinate Goitsimodimo, her 17-month-old son.
His face lights up as Motene’s voice crackles over the tiny speakers attached to the book’s cover.

“I’m not someone who will just pick up a book and read. I’m lazy to read. This book does the reading for me and has a lot of valuable information,” says Selebogo.

On the other side of the dimly lit shack, caregiver Boitumelo Tlhale (24) explains the content of the book dealing with HIV and depression to Molebogeng Tshetlhane (21).

Tlhale says The Speaking Book has made a world of ­difference in her work.

“Sometimes people are impatient to listen to us, especially when they are HIV-positive and in denial,” she says.

“But if they have this book, then they can receive advice and counselling in private until they are ready,” says Tlhale.

“This book is like a radio and so one doesn’t feel like someone is preaching to them.”

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