A home of hope Living with AIDS # 319

A home of hope  Living with AIDS # 319

In what was once a productive farming area of Calais, a deep rural village of Tzaneen in Limpopo, a Catholic missionary property abandoned for over a decade is now home to over 80 orphaned and sick children.

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KHOPOTSO: Driving in a small car along the dusty, gravel roads of rural Tzaneen, our guide, Sister Sally Duigan, a Catholic nun and co-ordinator of the diocese’€™s HIV/AIDS response in the region, explains what the Holy Family Centre is all about.


SISTER SALLY DUIGAN: We have 80 children. And a lot of them are sick children. They’€™re also orphaned, vulnerable, and are referred to us by the social workers from Letaba Hospital and Sekororo Hospital. And a number of the children are on antiretroviral treatment. And this has been a wonderful boost for them because they’€™re able to live much more quality lives and they have better opportunities to be able to participate in the things that other children do as well. It’€™s a beautiful place. It’€™s near the mountains. I think it’€™s a place of healing and a place of tranquillity, and a place where children can come and just feel loved and accepted, and be able to grow and develop in their own little personalities, and so on.


Sfx’€¦ Sounds of children chatting away’€¦


KHOPOTSO: It’€™s lunch time as we arrive at Holy Family. At the day care centre, amidst a whole of chatter, the younger kids are enthusiastically digging deep into their meal of pap, vegetables and meat. The older children attend classes at the nearby primary and high schools.


The matron of the centre, Sister Daine Inglis, originally from Dublin, in Ireland, tells us that the home was born out of one doctor’€™s dream at the regional hospital, after witnessing children become orphaned, and even die, due to AIDS.


SISTER DAINE INGLIS: We heard from the paediatrician at the Letaba Hospital that she had a dream. And that dream was that the children that she was discharging from the paediatric ward, who were very sick’€¦ would have somebody to care for them. They were orphaned children and what she felt was happening was, she was just sending them back to the village to die because there was no follow-up. So, she wanted to have a place where these children, when they left the hospital, could be brought and could be cared for and taken for regular review, for check-ups back to the hospital’€¦ Many of the children were shockingly malnourished because they had come from situations of terrible poverty.


KHOPOTSO: So, the centre was formed in May 2002, on a disused piece of land belonging to the Catholic Diocese of Tzaneen.


SISTER DAINE INGLIS: We began the project with five little children from the Letaba Hospital. Of those five children, only two of them are still alive’€¦ The other three died at the early stages. We started with five, and now we have 82.                              


KHOPOTSO: The availability of ARV treatment has meant that death is no longer a common occurrence.


SISTER DAINE INGLIS: The children are not dying as they were in the earlier years when it wasn’€™t available. In fact, we’€™ve only had one death earlier this year ‘€“ and that’€™s very good because now we’€™re in August. And last year again, we only had two deaths, whereas before we could have quite a lot – we could have as many as seven or eight in a year, which was always very hard.


KHOPOTSO: However, fewer deaths have also meant a strain on the small resources the centre has. Sighing heavily, Sister Daine paints a bleak picture of desperation in the wake of AIDS.    


SISTER DAINE INGLIS: I don’€™t know. I just feel this whole thing is getting worse, not better, and the need is getting so much worse’€¦ And there are tiny babies that have come to us recently ‘€“ one month, two months, three months’€¦ Some of them are very sick. They require constant food, formula milk, bottles, somebody always to be monitoring them’€¦ We are actually bursting at the seams. We have very little space left, particularly sleeping space.


KHOPOTSO: But while AIDS may be the reason for why most of the kids have ended up at Holy Family, others have different problems.    


SISTER DAINE INGLIS: We have one child who’€™s blind. We have three children who are deaf. We have one child with cerebral palsy. We have another child with a withered arm. We have a child with speech impediments that requires surgery. We have children that need physiotherapy.


Sfx’€¦ Children chatting away’€¦


KHOPOTSO: And the list rattles on. For many of us, this could be a huge challenge ‘€“ but not so, for Sister Daine.


SISTER DAINE INGLIS: I’€™ve never had a day of depression, here. (She laughs) I can say that because it’€™s about life. It’€™s about hope and it’€™s about children. And children are the most life-giving factors you can possibly find.