South Charlotte

She spreads hugs, drugs on vacation

Would you spend your two-week vacation transporting drugs, syringes and other medical supplies through customs into Zambia in Africa?

That's what Mary Jane Hardman of Rock Hill did recently. A social worker with the Catawba Care Coalition, Hardman, her husband and two other couples collected medical supplies for those infected with HIV, as well as items for an orphanage. They carried 100 pounds of supplies per person, so their personal items for two weeks had to fit into their carry-on luggage.

“I got support from my pharmaceutical reps in the area of HIV,” said Hardman. More supplies are being collected at a church in Salisbury, and a cargo container will be shipped to the area in September.

“Our luggage was searched, and even though we had syringes and drugs, they weren't confiscated,” Hardman said. The tiny town of Mwandi, which was their goal, was almost a two-hour trip by car from the closest airport in Livingston, Zambia. Livingston also has the closest gas station and grocery store to Mwandi.

Hardman and her husband sponsor a child at the Mwandi orphanage. Sixty dollars per year pays for a child to attend school by providing for uniforms and books and one meal per day. Most of the children actually live with extended family, but they're often treated as slaves. Even the clothing provided by the orphanage is subject to being confiscated by family members, Hardman said.

She had a chance to meet the child she and her husband sponsor and to visit with other children in the orphanage.

“Hugging, touching means so much to them,” Hardman said. “They're not touched except in a bad way.”

At home, Hardman teaches HIV patients how to take their medications. She and an infectious disease physician, who also made the trip, traveled from the clinic in Mwandi to hold an HIV clinic in the bush.

“The infectious disease doctor and I went to hold clinic in a mud hut with no electricity. I was the pharmacist,” Hardman said. People lined up outside the hut to see the doctor.

Although the trip wasn't what most of us think about when we plan our vacations, it was rewarding in its own way.

“It wasn't immediate gratification, but it was good, and hopefully the aftereffects will be even better.”