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Understanding the agency of home-based care volunteers: establishing identity and negotiating space in AIDS-home-based care in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Thirusha Naidu
Yvonne Sliep


In traditional Zulu communities, caregiving is rooted in compassionate and hardworking personal identity precepts and the traditional identity expectations  of women. Home-based-care volunteerism in the community represents the performance of this identity. Data from a series of interviews with 15 home-based care volunteers (HBCVs), in a rural community in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, is used to illustrate how HBCVs promote the notion of women as paid home-based caregivers, with a recognised space in the care and support system regarding HIV and AIDS. Home-based-care volunteering also represents the attempt by women to be seen, heard and recognised in the hope that it will lead to self-improvement and the improvement of their families. Volunteer motivations vary from altruism, to volunteering as a means to be recognised and increasing the chances of self-improvement. We propose that home-based-care volunteering may be viewed as a form of agency in response to a lack of recognition, support and acknowledgement for AIDS caregivers and their patients. The continued lack of support for HBCVs over a long period undermines the work and the basis of the HBCVs’ identity or the aspects of identity on which the motivation for the work is based.

Keywords: community care, cultural aspects, gender, narrative research, poverty, research methods, women

African Journal of AIDS Research 2012, 11(2): 143–152