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KHOPOTSO: These are some of the 21 children housed at Vhuthamo Home, a three-bed double-storey house that was once a farm-house. Yvonne Xaba-Bhoodu is the auxiliary social worker at the home.
YVONNE XABA-BHOODU: The name of the home is Vhuthamo’¦ Vhuthamo stands for home. It’s a Venda name.
KHOPOTSO: This is a place of care on a farm called Doornkuil, in Orange Farm. To reach the house from Johannesburg, take a couple of left turns from the entrance to the semi-formal settlement, then drive for about six minutes on a rough gravel road. The children have ended up at Vhuthamo for various reasons.
YVONNE XABA-BHOODU: We’re not specifically taking for HIV/AIDS only. It’s either orphans or affected or infected children. Other children that we are having here are the children that their parents have abandoned them. They don’t have any place to go’¦ The other children that we are having here are those children who have been sexually abused by their parents, actually.
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KHOPOTSO: The children here look healthy and have a care-free attitude as they continue playing with their minders ‘ whom they refer to as ‘Mama’. Xaba-Bhoodu reveals that a few of the kids have HIV.
YVONNE XABA-BHOODU: We’ve got three’¦ They are still young. They don’t even know that they are living with HIV, they don’t know’¦ There is one that is now on ARVs, but the two are only on antibiotics. But they are sickly – most of the time they go to the clinic. The house parent reports every time that so and so has got diarrhoea, has got this and that’¦ coughing a lot, not eating, vomiting’¦
KHOPOTSO: 70-year old Mam’ Mirriam Kakaza, has 48 years worth of experience as a nurse. Her expertise in paediatrics brought her back from retirement three years ago when the centre was formed to take up the position of house parent.
MIRRIAM KAKAZA: I’m here 24 hours’¦ I’ve just dedicated myself to spend time with the children. I always go home when I’m a day off.
KHOPOTSO: The elderly woman admits that she’s tired and needs a rest. Meanwhile, however, she takes on her responsibilities with pride.
MIRRIAM KAKAZA: When the child is admitted here I always check the weight’¦ the temperature’¦ Seeing that I’m a nurse I have the right to do referral to the clinic or to the doctors that they must check the child. Thereafter, I see to it that I must check the child again’¦If the treatment is not having an effect, then, I send the child back to the clinic for check-up again’¦ Since we came here we didn’t experience a death. And it’s very easy in a home to experience a death’¦
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KHOPOTSO: The youngest child at the home is two-and-a-half and the eldest, nine years old. Here, they are fed, well-clothed, able to go to school, have friends who understand them and, most importantly, have a home and are loved. The kids are oblivious as to why they live on Doornkuil Farm away from their homes. They believe that they will be re-united with their families. And that is the ultimate goal of the Vhuthamo management, who wish the centre to function as a ‘transitional home’. Yvonne Xaba-Bhoodu, explains the concept.
YVONNE XABA-BHOODU: That means we’re taking children while they are having a crisis. The family, maybe, died due to the cause of HIV and AIDS. Or the family, they are not ready to look after the child when the real parent is dead’¦ After that we are going to take the children back to the community ‘ to their relatives ‘ if they are ready.
KHOPOTSO: But, sadly, wishes are not horses. Three-year old Rose, not her real name, is the veteran resident at the centre, as she was the first one to be admitted. She was abandoned as a baby and Rose has no family to go to, even on holidays. In fact, none of the children in the home have ever gone back to their families.
YVONNE XABA-BHOODU: For now, I cannot say that we do have any success. It is because most of the children that are here ‘ their problems are overwhelming’¦ They are coming from poverty-stricken families where they don’t have anything to eat, not going to school ‘ some, their parents have passed away and the remaining relatives are unemployed.
KHOPOTSO: At the moment, Vhuthamo is a home away from home for the children living here. However, the future of the home and the kids seems precarious. After three years of existence, it remains unregistered and unrecognised by the Gauteng Department of Social Welfare and Development. This means it is unable to fundraise for the running of the home.
YVONNE XABA-BHOODU: In January, they informed us that, ‘no’, they are turning us down. We ‘won’t be registered’. But now it takes them three years to tell us one word, that they can’t.
KHOPOTSO: In the next ‘Living with AIDS’ feature, we look at why the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Gauteng, refused Vhuthamo Home registration.