Highlighted against the grey wet Friday afternoon stood a bright yellow courier truck packed to the roof with 150 new duvets, duvet covers and boxes of Danish biscuits for every resident at Nazareth House, both at their Vredehoek sanctuary and at Elsies River.
The directors of the Signature of Hope Trust were also present, and to the delight of the Dominican Sisters, the Nazareth House manager, the chief nursing sister and the some of the residents, the donations were warmly embraced. While the management at Nazareth House has ensured that the room temperature in all the private rooms, children’s houses, and the nurseries remain warm and toasty during the winter, the older residents still require cozy bedding, and it was this need that the Trust sought to meet.
We were taken, initially, to meet some of the elderly residents who don’t require frail care. There is a good staff complement of carers to assist the residents. I had to chance to meet a sister in her advanced years and to chat briefly with her. She was particularly keen to see the decorative tin of biscuits perched above my armful of duvet and duvet cover.
The newly appointed manager, Ms Gayenor Milne, and Staff Sister Jen Bader, then took us on a journey up and down stairs and around monkey-stone old walls to see the new children’s units at Nazareth House. What a service to mankind Nazareth offers! We saw young children struggling with birth defects who were being lovingly tended, in their bright cots or beds, by carers who kept a close watch on each child.
After that, we were taken to a children’s unit where various children were playing on the floor or watching TV and being watched and stimulated by four carers. We were interested to learn that these particular children were at Nazareth House while the courts or the social workers decide their future, and that most would be there for a few months at the most. One particular young girl with poor sight but a huge smile on her small face was overjoyed to be picked up, many times.
The boys and girls in their care have their own neat dormitories and suite of bathrooms, and on the balcony outside their dorms were about 10 toy motorbikes for them to scoot around in and burn off energy. Their routine each day is very structured and, for children who have experienced trauma and displacement, the calm rhythms of protection and care in a loving, stable environment must be balm to their young hearts. We learnt that all the clothes, books and toys are donated to Nazareth. The traumatized children arrive wearing very little and are given two sets of clothing when they leave. There is always a pressing demand to keep in stock suitable, warm clothes for girls and boys from birth up until the age of six or seven.
Our last stop in the children’s units was the toddler unit where we found children happily sucking on and eating quarters of orange. One of our team body surfed into the puddle of toddlers on the carpet and could not stop hugging the innocent young faces.One little boy only wanted to offer his orange quarter to her, and kept his hand outstretched with a half-sucked orange. Once you’ve been in the presence of these babies’ smiles and shining eyes, it is hard to walk away.
In a room separated by glass in this same unit are the terminally ill infants. Three carers are on duty at any one time with these infants, changing their nappies, nebulising their tiny noses and holding their little bodies in their arms. Whether they make it out of that unit, only time will tell.
On our way out of the chapel, Dominican Sister Illtyd asked me whether I would like to see the names of the children who had died of Aids. Tucked away, in a dark recess at the back of the chapel, are three cloth pieces, with names and dates of children lovingly embroidered in cross-stitch on the cloth. The two dates assigned to each name is the date the infant was brought into Nazareth House and the date on which the infant or toddler died. It was heartbreaking to see the names of some of the children – children whose births were surely never registered and who arrived without names. The sisters and social workers had assigned names to them.
The Signature of Hope Trust was honoured to be able to meet this donation request. Nazareth House has huge operating costs and relies on donations from companies and the public. The need is great. The directors of the Trust encourage other companies to support the work and care of the Sisters of Nazareth.
Chairman: Signature of Hope Trust