How to Spread it: The angels of Phokeng

2014-11-02 15:00

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Caregivers travel around the town to help struggling and ill people wherever they can, writes Athandiwe Saba

A small team of women and men have taken up the challenge of caring for the community of Phokeng, North West, through Legadigadi Home-Based Care.

The group was started by the late Makobo Phetoane in 2003 because of the community’s dire need for caregivers for people battling with diseases, especially HIV/Aids.

One of the longest-serving members of the team, Lettie Melembe, says she was inspired by the work Phetoane started and, even though her own circumstances needed her attention, she felt it was necessary to give of herself.

“Most of the people are afraid to speak about their health. I was one of those people, so I can relate to them. I wanted the sick people to stop denying their HIV status because this was detrimental to their health. When I approach people, I tell them of my own status, and they are comforted and want to talk. This is the beginning of their healing,” she says.

None of those working for their community has formal training in the healthcare sector, but the little knowledge they do have is shared with the community. Melembe says the area is riddled with HIV and tuberculosis.

One of her “patients” is a woman who is bedridden and cannot administer her own medication. She lives with her mentally challenged mother and other younger family members. “Because there is no one there on a full-time basis, the woman doesn’t take her medication all the time and her young daughter was abused by some older male family members,” Melembe says.

This case was reported by the centre, which has continued with follow-up visits to the mother and her daughter.

After she was retrenched, Fosty Phitwa started working at the centre soon after it was formed. She has a soft spot for children who are abused and orphaned. She could not sleep for weeks when one of her patients died.

“You are there every day making sure this person takes their medication and eats something. When she died, I felt like a failure – how did I let this happen when I thought I was helping her? It was very hard.”

In their blue-and-white outfits, these volunteers have an angelic air as they walk the streets of Phokeng. They were not being paid a cent until 2010, when the department of social services began to give them a stipend. Phitwa and 20 co-workers travel to the farthest parts of Phokeng, which has 22 sections. Travel costs are not covered by the stipend, so they have to walk. They try to reach at least five homes a day, but this is a challenge because of the distance between houses.

The volunteers also try to save part of the stipend to build premises to house those who cannot take care of themselves every day. Some of the families live in abject poverty and can’t afford to eat a meal every day.

“The virus loves poverty because you can’t fight it on an empty stomach. We try to provide food parcels and Morvite cereal to the patients, but even that runs out because we have no sponsors or stable funding. We do what we can, but it’s not always enough,” says Melembe.

To further help the community, the centre has started a vegetable garden, which is thriving in the red soil. The community, which is allowed to harvest the vegetables, also depends on the Legadigadi volunteers to provide advice and guidance on social grants, abuse cases and any service that would normally be undertaken by the department of social services.

Despite these challenges, the volunteers believe there is nothing like helping another human being. “If we don’t wake up, go out there and help our people, it’s as if we haven’t lived that day. Even if we get nothing in return, like many of us have for years, we need to help,” says Mbuyiselo Choba, a volunteer. – Athandiwe Saba

.?This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust and the African Grantmakers Network. To support a cause, visit

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