January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
Our Trip to Lily of the Valley in November 2011 was full of emotion, challenges, successes, trials and appreciation. I feel renewed, refreshed and grateful. We did so much; ranging from piloting a new health program for children in the local communities surrounding Lily, working with local social workers on a suspected case of child abuse, nursing a very sick child with AIDs and conducting medical examinations on children in need. Within seeing 20 children, Samina and I had picked up two heart murmurs, two urinary infections, one likely case of diabetes and three children with HIV/AIDS. And that was just one class in one school. The possibilities to identify more cases of illness and disease is immense! We are proud that we were here at the start and that from our past efforts a bigger program will be rolled out to this district and perhaps even the whole of Durban which would be fantastic. Because of the huge need, we were told that our volunteers would always be needed with such a program.
We had a lot of meetings to establish links with old and new institutions, NGOs and people who TWOWEEKS need to work with in South Africa and who are related to the new ‘regime’ at Lily. Our trip was not free of sadness. One of the reports I completed was on a three-year-old girl who I reviewed in a school in a district adjacent to Lily as suspicions of child abuse arose due to her behaviour when examined and further medical tests undertaken. We made sure that we sought advice from social workers, psychologists and Lily before proceeding as it was a sensitive issue that meant potentially accusing innocent parents of child abuse, which we knew would not go down well with that community and news would spread also.
We discussed the situation and our suspicions with the head of the local social worker division and followed her advice to report our concerns to the headmistress of the school. She confirmed our suspicions and said that this child was always sad, withdrawn, never played and always sat alone in a corner. However, she went on to say that she would not do anything as there would be repercussions to herself, family and position at the school. “I know her stepfather”, she said, “and it would not be good for me.” Despite our protestations, the Zulu nurse attending this meeting with us explained that this is a real concern and retaliation is commonplace with situations like this. Needless to say we left that meeting very upset, confused and disappointed but in truth I do not live in this lady’s shoes and therefore cannot pass judgement. However, we could not abandon this child and so we are now handing over our concern to the social workers for them to help this little girl. We need to protect our children and sadly abuse if rife in South Africa – a bewildering and unpallatable fact that needs to be addressed.
Another sad situation arose when we tried to help a 12-year-old girl called Thobeka who had come to Lily about three months ago. She had full-blown AIDS and fell ill three weeks after arriving at Lily. She was admitted to hospital back in June and had remained there ever since. She had previously suffered with meningitis and as a result had paralysis on the right side of her body. But she made progress and picked up whilst admitted in hospital. However, South African public hospital care is very different from that in the UK and on the ward children are jampacked in together with all ailments (contagious or otherwise). So she not only had a low white cell count (i.e. AIDS) to deal with but she also caught TB and then meningitis again. Her immune system was just too weak.
Samina and I were asked to review her and find out if there was any way to improve her situation and prognosis. We went to the hospital that was a good 40 minutes drive away and spoke with the resident paediatrician in charge of her care. On our first visit he expressed hope and a determination to fight in her corner but as the days passed and she deteriorated further, it became clear that her chances of survival were fading fast and so we tried our best to get her transferred to a palliative care hospital as the care she was receiving at this particular hospital was abysmal. In South African public hospitals, parents are only allowed to stay with their children if they are being breast fed, so most of the children there stay alone. And even though Thobeka was an orphan, the Lily volunteers and staff at the village and clinic tried their very best to see her as often as they could in that small window of visiting hours, which was between 1-3pm each day. When we visited, Thobeka was often dirty, lying in soiled sheets and the nurses showed no care or attention. Her lips were cracked and sore and she often cried and moaned when we were there. Bless Thobeka. It was so hard leaving her when we visited and although we bought her cuddly toys and things to brighten her bed situated in a dimly lit area of the ward, it was not the same as a touch of a hand or a stroke of her brow which she appreciated when we were there. The Lily long-term volunteers also did what they could and two even took a guitar and sang to her. Whilst sitting with her I thought about all the people who ask, ‘What can I do in two weeks?’ Merely having a volunteer sit with this little girl each day and perhaps with the other children on the ward would have made such a big difference to her suffering.
We tried so hard to help this little girl but money was always the barrier. To move her to a semi-private hospital would have cost £100 a day and we tried to think of ways to raise the money; phonecalls, emails etc. We just needed time. With the global economic downturn, NGOs and charities such as Lily and TWOWEEKS have all felt the effects of reduced donations and cash flow and if you take £100 a day and give it to this one child, you take it away from helping the remaining 129 children who live at Lily. So we tried to think of ways to help little Thobeka and we even went to a hospice and asked for their help. A plan began to develop that if they could accept Thobeka in a side room and Lily hired a nurse to sit with her (a far cheaper option than transferring her to a private hospital), then she would be cared for and be nearer to Lily so that more people could visit. We just needed more time. But sadly on the 30th November we learned that Thobeka had died that morning. So sad. And whilst her suffering is no more, I just wish we could have made her final days with us more comfortable and surrounded by love. Lily now plan to build a small hospice facility to care for children in situations just like this and we hope to support them with this aim. Poor little Thobeka, she had such a hard struggle and who knows how her life was before she came to Lily. I pray she is now at peace.
Kamal did some stellar work at Lily and focused her time on working with the older children who will one day grow to adulthood and have to leave Lily. Most of them have lived at Lily for most of their lives and so the concept of leaving and having to fend for themselves is quite foreign to them and now being addressed in a big way. Kamal did a workshop on job interviews with the children to get them thinking about the process of looking and securing a job. She also worked a lot in the IT class which is situated near the clinic in the community projects that Lily has developed. She taught adults and children from the local community how to navigate around the net, search for things and jobs and produce a CV and covering letter. It was really touching as on the last day a couple of her students that she had taught from the community came up to her and said thank you and took pictures with her. It was smiles all round and I felt very proud of her as it was clear that she had made a difference to these two ladies who expressed their appreciation so warmly.
So that was our trip. There is still so much to be done but we are on the case.
Words by Karen Patten