Connecting local responses around the world
Pozisa (Pozi) Matoti has been the Centre Manager since December 2005. Initially, training and working as a social worker, Pozi worked as a radio announcer for a while before returning to social work, and finding her way to the Fikelela Children's Home in Khayelitsha - a huge and densely pupulated township on the outskirts of Cape Town, with the highest HIV rate in the Wester Cape of South Africa.
At any given time, roughly 60% of the children are HIV+, having been placed at the Centre by social workers. These social workers are often amazed to see the improvement in the children they bring in - sometimes they don't recognize them at a later visit and are surprised to see them still alive, let alone in good health. "Nothing is more gratifying that to get a child who is so sick that the people who have brought him tell you, 'We don't have hope' and then we take the child to clinics, to doctors; we nurture the child and we see him changing right in front of our eyes and getting healthy!", says Pozi.
"I'm not going to argue and say I know best about ARVs", she continues. "All I can say is what I know. We used to deal with sick children, but now we don't have sick children; we have children who are HIV+. We still get children who are sick - those who have just arrived; perhaps they have not been diagnosed, or only recently, or there have been problems with the caregiver. We don't worry anymore when we get a sick child. We know that once we go through the steps and they get onto ARVs, they will be okay. The last child to die at the Children's Centre because of illness was in 2004. As soon as we put them on ARVs they become healthy. It's amazing to watch, but it's a lot of work.".
But Pozi has learned that it takes more than that. "Since I've got here, I have learnt to rely very much on prayer. There are four 'legs' to what we do - good nutrition, medication, a healthy and loving environment....and prayer!"
In 2007 we got this little boy who was brought in by a social worker. His mother had suffered a mental breakdown, and could no longer take care of her son. They were called by neighbours who had realised the child was no longer taking medication. This little boy was HIV+ from birth, and I'll never forget the day he got here. He was walking like an old man - even at 5 years of age - complaining about pain in his side. We took him to our doctor at the Day Hospital. When she eventually found his clinic card in a day hospital - his mother could not tell us where to find any medical history - in Khayelitsha, she discovered that he had defaulted for a long time on his medication and that was why he was so ill. He was placed back on treatment in September that year, and by that December little Sipho**started getting sick again. We couldn't understand what was happening. He was sent to hospital for tests to discover why he stopped responding to medication, when he had been responding so well before. He would be hospitalised for a couple of weeks, then he would come back to us, and he still wasn't okay. Sipho just kept getting worse. At some stage, he stayed in hospital for over a month, and by the time he came back - the hospital saying he was better - he was not better. He had stopped having the use of his hands, he couldn't walk, he couldn't stand up, he would crawl. I was horrified to hear reports from carers at the Centre each morning. I stood in my office, crying. I couldn't believe it. I remember saying to the staff that we needed to have a prayer session. So we had one of our own. When that didn't work, we decided to invite other priests from the community to come and pray, and they did happily. By this stage, Sipho seemed to be at the last stages. He was no longer taking medication - the doctors said his body had rejected the medication. I just felt the urge that we needed somehow to find his mum. We knew she was somewhere out there in a community called Kraaifontein, but we had no idea where to look. So, we got in the car that morning, we had never been there - and we looked and looked, and we got lucky...because we had prayed before we left. We didn't know where to go, but we asked God to guide us. I never used to be so religious before I got here to Fikelela, but I've been taught here that when we don't know what to do - when our backs are against the wall - we must just pray. So, I've been a praying woman ever since I got here.
So we prayed that morning and - what do you know? - we found this place, and people who know this woman. They took us to her shack! And we left a message under her door, asking her to call us. That evening, she called me, and I asked her whether she could come. She said she couldn't because she didn't have money for transport. The next day, I went there in the morning on my own to pick her up and bring her to Sipho.
I'll never forget when she arrived - Sipho was very young when he was removed from her - he recognized her. He recognized her. The minute he walked in the door, Sipho whispered "That's my mum". He could hardly speak, but he remembered her. Everyone was crying here. She stayed, and she was rocking him like a baby. All her maternal instincts came back. She stayed overnight in the community around the centre, and came back the next day. That next morning was the day we were taking Sipho to a hospice. And she stayed there with him, until he came back to us in February the next year. By that time, Sipho was doing really well, but he had to learn how to walk again - he had splints on his hands and legs. He still goes to physio each week. He's seven years old now, but he's made a recovery. He's really come a long way.
I suspect that a lot of his recovery had to do with the reconnection with his mother. It did something for him. And the mother - although she had been a bad mother previously - reconnected with her child, she was there for him, she was washing him and feeding him. And I think that pulled him back."
* This story is shared as an outcome of a partnership between The Constellation and Cordaid to capture good practise and experience from Cordaid's South African partners. For the full Fikelela partner profile and reflections on video, see https://aidscompetence.ning.com/group/cordaidpartnerssouthafrica *
** Not his real name