Support to AIDS Patients and Local Community
PHILIPPI, CAPE TOWN, South Africa/GENEVA, 21 December 2011 (LWI) – The rhythm with which Stembele Ndenetya tenderly rakes dry leaves from the green lawn betrays his deep love for a sanctuary that gave him life when he was almost dying.
His wife had just died in 1987 and was buried in the rural Eastern Cape. He came back to Cape Town to resume normal life. Ndenetya became very sick. He got tested and learned he had AIDS.
The will to survive drove him to look for an AIDS support group for moral support. As there were none in the Samora neighborhood where he lived, he decided to start one. That was in 2003.
A nurse at Mzamomuhle, a local clinic where he went for a check-up, told him there was a mlungu (white person) looking for people like him at the Lutheran Church in Philippi.
“That is how I came to be here,” says Ndenetya, the resident caretaker at iThemba Labantu Community Center who has lost five children to AIDS-related illness. “I learnt about AIDS. I got a focus on life and became more responsible.”
He got regular work at the center working in different capacities. iThemba Labantu literally means “hope for the people.”
Confidence, Value to Life
“I have seen the hope that this center holds for many people. I have worked for the ceramics department. I have made beads. I built two of the buildings here. We fed the hungry.”
“It is this spirit of kindness that keeps people dropping in daily to seek help for their specific problems,” he adds.
At 46 Ndenetya is among many who hold the iThemba Labantu center in high regard.
“This place has changed my value to life,” says 26-year-old Nokhuthula Gxota. “I am now confident that I will be strong and be there for my children,” the mother of three adds.
Nolitha Mgwebi from Lower Crossroads in Philippi brims with confidence. “I was so sick, but the care I got here revived me in a week,” says Mgwebi whose 61-year-old mother is looking after her child.
“Here we give them more than personal hygiene. There is medication. We attend to their social and economic needs,” says Lindy Mkuzo, a nurse at the 18-bed hospice who oversees nine caregivers.
Mkuzo says they assist the sick in securing social grants for their children. The center provides transport to those who need to collect antiretrovirals from various community clinics. Help for those without identity documents is facilitated with the South Africa Department of Home Affairs.
The center conducts counseling and testing. It helps people in the neighboring communities of Philippi—one of the larger townships of South Africa whose exact size is unknown. What is known, however, is its abject poverty and high incidences of HIV and AIDS. Some estimates put its population at about 150,000 people.
“Whenever there is a free bed, we take in patients who have no one to care for them,” says Mkuzo. “There are no beds in South African hospitals for people living with HIV and AIDS. We take in those secondary patients,” she notes.
After six to eight weeks 99 percent of the patients will have improved well enough to go home, says Mkuzo. But not until after being taught not to skip their medication and how to make ends meet if not employed, she adds.
Bead-Making, Plumbing, Arts
Bead-making skills are a great help for many people without any other source of income, says Khuthele Caphukele, who makes an average of six beaded artifacts per day, earning him ZAR 60 per day (USD 6.50). Caphukele only gets paid at the end of the month after having accumulated substantial amounts from undertaking more work.
“Sometimes AIDS patients are too weak to do anything. Beading becomes the most suitable activity they can do with their hands,” says Nodume Lurafu, a crafts teacher who has lost count of the number of students that she has taught at iThemba Labantu.
The doors of the center are not only open to people with HIV and AIDS, but also to the general population.
“Our solar and plumbing four-month basic course is on a first-come, first-served basis,” says teacher Peter Arendse, adding that students don’t pay any tuition to study. They are actually paid for attending school.
“In the past we could not take students from far flung community areas because they would miss lessons [as they could not] afford travelling expenses but there is now a sponsor that gives them ZAR 400 [USD $50] monthly,” he explains.
While the center has had some success with some students getting formal work after their courses, the biggest joy is that they ultimately leave the institution with skills, says Arendse.
The same applies for the motor engineering course, but the trainees have to pass a matrix exam for admission. There are also computer lessons for students. Those passionate about the arts can find space in the music and dance school.
English for Children
“We have taken the challenge to teach children to speak English because learners are faced with the English-speaking barrier,” says Selina Morta, the principal of the center’s pre-school of 34 children.
“We are preparing them for the next level,” she says.
For a child to be in class, a nominal fee of ZAR 50 has to be paid but this, in most cases, is a responsibility of the center.
Some of the children attending the center come from the poorest homes one can imagine. Others are raised by single parents and some had lost parents to AIDS while they were attending the center, so it becomes a responsibility of the school to look after their welfare, Morta says.
The center has stayed afloat in face of economic upheavals and unending requests for help from impoverished people. It has been a global team effort, but it also takes the ingenuity and commitment of its leader Rev. Otto Kohlstock.
“When we started, there were no antiretrovirals then. We wanted people to [be able to] die with dignity,” says Kohlstock, a missionary of the Berlin Mission Society and a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA). “We started this hospice with ten beds and the provincial health department has backed us ever since.”
Kohlstock says the center now has five pillars including education; health; income generating initiatives such as ceramics and bead-making projects; nutrition involving soup-making; and sports and recreation.
“I get a personal reward to see that lives can be changed,” he says. “I discourage donations–place an order for our products, you aid the center, you help the people who make the products,” he adds. (1,122 words)
(By LWI correspondent Munyaradzi Makoni)