Care Giver’s give hope to the community in Soweto

Caregivers' office in Soweto

Living out God’s call to love our neighbour as ourselves

Rev. Marian Lucas-Jeffries recently traveled to Soweto in South Africa to teach and support members of the Soweto Home Based Care Givers Co-op.

“I have to leave tomorrow, but it’s important that I tell your story when I get back to Canada”, I told the dying woman as I knelt beside her. This was the first day she could sit in a week. She may have been five-foot eight or nine and probably didn’t weight 60 lb. In barely a whisper, she told me that she had been diagnosed with HIV+ positive eight months before.

We were sitting in a tiny two-room house (living room/kitchen and one small bedroom) she shares with her mother, and four grandchildren. Her mother, the head of the household sat with her head dropping, looking tired, sad and defeated as she watches her last child die. The only other sibling, a brother also died of AIDS.

The family lives in the shantytown of Soweto, in profound poverty.  There is no running water. No toilet. The house sits in an area fenced off with strands of left over wire. An old set of bedsprings acts as a gate to a property that is shared by four or five shacks.

All week prior to the visit, Middah, the president of the Soweto Home Based Care Giver’s Co-op had been shaking her head saying, “My patient, is not doing well”. Like the other twenty members of the co-op, Middah cares deeply about every one of the people she works with and their families. They normally care for as many as 300 families plus orphans. In the past twelve months, the home care workers lost almost 100 patients to AIDS.  It must take its toll.

My previous trip to work with the co-op, almost three years ago, in the first hour of our introduction, I became acutely aware the stress of the grief these women endure with the staggering numbers of patients who die. But they carry on.

In spite of all odds they carry on, and they grow. Six years ago, the care givers themselves lived in poverty. Today, they are competent, skilled home care workers many of whom aspire to careers in nursing, as auxiliary nurses (LPN is what we call it in Canada). These women are highly skilled, some have gained managerial skills, all now have varying degrees of literacy. One woman said that she learned English since she joined the co-op. All of them are committed to providing quality care to the lepers of South African society, people living and dying of HIV and AIDS. The care givers provide hope for the communities they serve in.

I’m happy to say that because of the skills of the home care workers and the fact that their patients now receive ARVs (anti retro viral drugs) some of them return to a degree of health that even allows them to return to work.

I was sent to South Africa as a technical co-operant by the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA), the umbrella organization for all of the co-ops and credit unions in Canada. CCA, with financial assistance from CIDA (The Canadian International Development Association) has been supporting this project for the past six years. When I returned from my last trip there three years ago, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, the development and relief arm of the Anglican Church of Canada inquired about the project and decided to support the co-op as well. Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver has raised enough money to build the co-op a new health center that will allow them to move out of the two shipping containers they now operate from, a facility they have outgrown and Credit Union Central of British Columbia raised enough funds to supply the co-op patients with food parcels for six months.  

I was sent to Soweto, one of the black townships, an urban area with a population of two million, to do workshops on communication, deal with organizational issues and teach Co-op Basics to the new members. Erin, my co-worker and I also researched other home care agencies. But nothing was as important as the visits.

Experiencing the situation that the workers face day in and day out, working in conditions of poverty that I would never have the strength or conviction to survive for very long. And to watch the workers and understand in a clearer way how important it is for us to support them in their fight in the struggle against AIDS.

What did I learn? Its simple. I learned exactly how important it is to supply the funds to make it possible for Middah and her co-workers to care for the people who need it the most, living out God’s call to love our neighbour as ourselves. 

View more stories on: Africa Stories, Featured, HIV/AIDS Stories, Women Stories