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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Discussion Questions for Amber Bechtel’s Essay on AIDS in South Africa

Africa, South Africa
Grades 9-12
Cross-Cultural Understanding, Environment, Health, Language Arts & Literature

How can traditional healers help alleviate South Africa’s HIV/AIDS crisis? Peace Corps Volunteer Amber Bechtel takes a look at traditional medicine’s role alongside new treatments for HIV/AIDS.


  • Brand New Muti by Amber Bechtel (see link above)


Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the author immediately capture the reader’s attention? [By providing intriguing details about something quite unfamiliar to most Westerners.] What is the effect of describing the details of the healer’s actions step-by-step, rather than condensing that description? [It puts the reader at the scene of the action, making the description seem live, and making the healer’s actions seem purposeful and genuine, rather than simply bizarre or unfamiliar.]
  2. Why is it important that the reader grasp the importance of the healer’s rituals and medicines to the local people? [Because it will become clear how the local populace depends upon healers, and that dependence affects how the treatment of AIDS can or cannot reach the general population.]
  3. In the fourth paragraph, Amber Bechtel reports that traditional healers are often the only people who will offer assistance and comfort to victims of HIV/AIDS. Are there any individuals in the United States who sometimes fulfill that aspect of a traditional healer’s role? [Individuals who work at homeless shelters, as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), or as hospice counselors sometimes take that role as listener, counselor, and comforter to those without a social network. Students might address what factors may cause an individual to alienate or lose his or her social network in the United States, just as AIDS affects those suffering from the disease in Africa. (Mental illness and alcoholism are two factors that commonly cause people to become homeless or otherwise isolated from their former communities.)]
  4. The author points to the double problem of ensuring that patients not miss a single dose of antiretroviral medication and of making sure the populations gets checked for HIV/AIDS in order to know who needs the medications in the first place. If you were a nongovernmental worker for an agency like the author’s, what strategies would you recommend to address the two problems?
  5. Why do the author and the AIDS Foundation of South Africa want to work through the traditional healers rather than around them? Be specific in your answers. [As the accepted authorities on medical issues, the traditional healers probably have a much better chance of infusing knowledge and safe practices into the local populace than medical personnel whom the population might not trust or even be able to afford.]
  6. What are some innovative strategies you might promote as a nongovernmental worker
    • To slow the spread of HIV/AIDS?
    • To care for those who need it?
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