"Angel" Lesson

HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa

Students get to meet a victim of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa and see personally how it affects her, her community, and the author, who meets and befriends her. Objectives Students will understand the many dimensions of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa and learn about one of the strategies being employed to control the disease and help its many victims.


  1. Have students read “Angel.” Then use the following questions as a guide for class discussion.
  2. A worldwide effort is underway to control the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The Peace Corps assigns almost 2,000 Volunteers exclusively to this effort. The fight against AIDS involves prevention, suppressive medication, care for patients suffering from the disease, and support for the many orphans and for the victims of the disease who are often ostracized from their families and communities. Ask students to identify Barbara Arrington’s chief contribution to fighting the effects of AIDS and how it helped her community. For another vivid and moving account of the effects of AIDS in South Africa, refer students to Peace Corps Volunteer Allison Howard’s essay “Where Life Is Too Short” (www.peacecorps.gov/wws/stories).
  3. If Barbara Arrington had been writing a newspaper report, she might have introduced Angel right away and proceeded to explain Angel’s role. Instead, she started with an anecdote. What does the author achieve by telling a little story in the first paragraph? [She sets the scene and the tone, making sure the reader understands the extent and effect of the AIDS pandemic among the population. She also establishes a context so that readers get a feeling for the physical environment.]
  4. A great many South Africans outside of urban areas rely on traditional healers called sangomas for medical treatment.These healers use herbs and rituals to help heal those suffering from injuries and disease. Some of the traditional medications that sangomas use ironically act to negate the effects of antiretroviral medications that would otherwise help those suffering from HIV/AIDS. Ask students how they might try to help communities fight the AIDS epidemic in places where sangomas preside over most medical procedures. Then refer the students to an essay by Peace Corps Volunteer Amber Bechtel, who has been facing just that situation in South Africa. In her essay “Brand New Muti” (on the Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program website, at peacecorps.gov/wws/stories), students will learn how Amber included the sangomas in her training regimens, and why the traditional healers agreed to adapt their rituals.
  5. When the author is looking for a secondary project, she says that an idea “came knocking at my door.” Explain to students that the author is using a literary device called personification. She attributes human characteristics to an inanimate object—in this case, an abstract noun, the idea, came knocking. Ask in what ways personification adds to the description. [The author could have said simply that she “got an idea,” or that it “fell in her lap.”The image of an idea arriving at her door is much richer and more interesting than a simple report would have been.] 

Frameworks & Standards

Enduring Understandings

  • Even when facing advanced stages of AIDS, an individual can maintain hope and a positive attitude to help others avoid the disease or at least live productive, inspired lives.
  • The HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa is all encompassing, imposing itself on all aspects of everyday life—for the victims of the disease as well as for the survivors.

Essential Questions

  • What personal resources can one call upon to lead a constructive life in the face of HIV/AIDS?
  • Why is HIV/AIDS so widespread in South Africa?


English Standards: 1, 2, 3, 4 (see page 131)
Social Studies Standards: I, IX (see page 132)
National Geography Standards: 4, 10 (see page 133)

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