Ben is a lean middle-aged man with a quick smile and a polite manner. His hair is cropped low with the slightest sprinkling of grey and when you shake his hand you can tell that he’s done his fair share of hard work. His wiry figure is a near perfect match for his personality, but at the same time, it defies any preconception of the stereotypical AIDS patient.
He greets you like he’s talking to someone from the old neighbourhood that he saw often but never really got to know. The fact that he is happy to share his story meant that we got (re)acquainted quickly. To protect his identity we are using an assigned name and won’t go further into the specifics of his story but he is defiantly not ashamed of his disease and he is not ashamed of his lot in life.
The weight of the diagnosis is one of the heaviest burdens that Ben has to bear, but Ben is the kind of person that does not give up. With all the changes that came with his condition Ben eventually moved on to where his now, trying to keep himself focused on staying healthy and positive.
Ben is a survivor
A testament to this is the story he told us about how he suffered a bad fall that could have been fatal for a weaker man. He showed us some scars that run across his arm like veins, but before he could fully raise his shirt his social worker explained that we didn’t need those scars as well, “Pain don’t stop me from working” he says proudly, occasionally eyeing the bicycle sourced by the international NGO Bikes for the World.
As a self-confessed man who “moves early in the morning”, this bike could help break Ben’s reliance on public transportation. Pinelands Creative Workshop is the local partner of Bikes for the World and they are always looking for constituents who are already working on their own goals and might need a little help. Cultural Coordinator Curtis Gittens was glad to see that this bike was going to be put to use straight away. He went on to explain that donations like this were an integral part of what PCW was about. He spoke passionately about empowering people, positive change and making a difference; that, he asserted, is what this community organisation is all about.
PCW’s Stephen Grant expressed the same views. As the manager of the bicycle programme he vouched for the reliability of the Specialised bicycle that Ben received. Specialised is a top-notch brand he said, and went on to explain that even though it was very light, the bike was also very robust. These were welcomed words for Ben who nodded his approval of the features.
Strong support from the HIV/AIDS Commission
For her part Ben’s social worker was pleased with the presentation as well, she was very familiar with his progress and could immediately see how the bicycle could help him in his daily life. She was also pleased with how he is coping with the conditions of his life since his diagnosis. She spoke about him in the same way that a teacher might speak of a student who has just mastered a topic.
Watching the two of them together only reinforces the teacher-student analogy. Ben is respectful and attentive and she is nurturing but firm. Their conversations flowed freely from one topic to another. They ranged from the pleasantries of how the other was doing since the last time they spoke to simple topics that they could freely discuss in front of outsiders. The discussion of where the presentation should place demonstrated a collaborative approach to problem-solving where both parties could expect to be heard and have their opinion considered.
By the time we left both Curtis and Stephen were even happier with the decision to donate the bike. The chance to meet with Ben and his social worker and see their reaction was all the confirmation they needed. Their work here was not done nor had it just begun; PCW had worked with the HIV/AIDS Commission on many projects before and were as committed as ever to do more.