Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thembalethu Report

Thembalethu (Our Hope)

The name of the children’s shelter that Lorraine and Vic Parsons worked at from October to December 2007 pretty much sums up the hope for the future of the many orphaned and abandoned children in this part of South Africa. Both the shelter and St. Mary’s Hospital are located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the hardest hit part of South Africa by the HIV-AIDS pandemic.

We were astonished at the deep connections that the Zulu order of nuns, Daughters of St. Francis, have in the local community. The shelter is located two hours south of Durban in a rural setting of steep hills and green valleys. Not only do the sisters run the shelter, which accommodates between 20 and 26 children at a time, but they also provide meals for local schoolchildren, and they have an Outreach program that supplies food parcels – rice, beans, cornmeal, dairy supplements, oil – and blankets. If someone needs a wheelchair, they will work diligently to find one. If an ill person needs assistance to get a doctor’s certificate so they can get a pension from the government, they will explore all means possible. They also run a day care for children at the Assisi mission, and help support another about 10 kilometres away that serves 80 local kids. They distribute fresh food from their gardens to the local community.

When we consider the word Hope, we think of little Sanelisiwe, a toddler who came to the shelter shortly before we arrived. She had been abandoned by her mother for days and the only brief care she received was from passing strangers. Although she has not been tested, because she does not have a birth certificate and her mother has disappeared, she most likely carries the HIV virus. At first, no one could approach her crib without her bursting into tears and crying loudly. The only way the sisters and caregivers could get her to stop was by tossing a blanket over her head. Gradually, she allowed people to hold her, and then to give her small amounts of food. By the time we left Assisi, she would grin happily whenever we opened the door to the shelter. She would play with the other children and was so proud of her little frilly dress. To us, it was a minor miracle!

The other program African AIDS Angels contributes to is Born to Live at St. Mary’s Hospital just outside Durban. Drugs are given to pregnant moms to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. About 4,000 babies and 3,500 mothers have gone through this program with a 95 per cent success rate. The AAA money provides counseling so the drugs are taken appropriately. If the drugs are not taken properly, the therapy would fail.

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