Today, the Alive Hospice Blog travels to South Africa with this reflection by Karen Nash, director of Alive Grief Support Services. Karen visited Alive Hospice’s South African sister hospice in 2003. Alive Hospice‚Äôs annual All Things Beaded and Beyond sale is tomorrow, December 2, and proceeds will benefit hospice care in South Africa. By shopping at this sale, Middle Tennesseans can help make a difference half a world away!
|¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Karen Nash
I had never thought about going to South Africa like so many other people had. They were drawn there by the thrill of being on safari, seeing the astounding wildlife in Kruger National Park, shopping at Victoria Street Market in Durban (a city boasting the largest Indian population outside of India), or viewing the unsurpassed vistas atop Table Mountain which looks out on Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in all the world. Those things did not beckon to me like the castles that dot the Rhine in Germany, the breathtaking peaks of the Swiss Alps, the grand palaces in Austria, or the majestic cathedrals throughout all of Europe.
Yet, I did go to South Africa¬†8 years ago in August 2003 when Alive Hospice offered me the chance to visit Hospice in the West, our sister hospice (recently renamed Hospice West Gauteng. I was part of a national delegation of 25 hospice professionals who traveled as a group through South Africa for about 10 days seeing the sites and many different hospices. We then broke off to visit each of our partner hospices for a week before gathering to process our experiences and return home. While there, I saw such amazing personal and collective strength from Hospice in the West staff and their patients. Much like here, I visited patients living in a variety of social settings, but in South Africa resources are slim and the challenges are vast.
What I remember most is the grace and spirit of the people and the way South Africa now beckons to me more than any other place I have ever been. I remember my visits with patients in the township areas and the efforts the¬†hospice made to provide individual and group services to them. The townships are large communities where blacks have historically been delegated to live, much like Native American reservations here in our country.
I remember the way the nurses (called “sisters” in South Africa) would rotate the use of one company car the hospice had been able to buy from grant money and I remember how the other “sisters” would borrow or use their own vehicles and pay for their own gas on the days they did not get to use the company car. This was a great financial sacrifice for many of them, beyond what we can imagine.
I remember¬†the old van which had been donated years before and was frequently driven by a volunteer to take a team nurses to see various patients in the township. This was the same van that picked up patients and their families once a week to bring them together for group interaction and a meal with other patients & families who did have transportation.
Age, gender, race, ethnicity, or financial status had no bearing there. I remember a sea of people at the groups¬†– young¬†and old, black¬†and white, well-to-do¬†and poor — all gathered together in the common bond that forms when facing cancer and HIV.
I remember so vividly the significant hardships I observed. As if their diseases weren’t hardship enough, many people in South Africa¬†live in poverty with no electricity or running water.
I remember a¬†patient who lived in a subsidized apartment and relied on¬†the hospice¬†to provide pre-packaged food that amounted to about 5 meals — probably the most food the patient¬†would get from week to week.
Some bear hardships of a different kind: separation from dear family members, but holding out hope that they’ll be reunited.
Eight years later I also remember the hospitality they showed me. I’ll never forget giving candy to¬†the children I encountered, a small way to show them someone they had never met cared about them, too. I anticipated the joy on their faces when I gave it to them.¬†What¬†I didn’t expect was being handed a piece of the candy I gave out because a child thought I should have some, too.¬†I hoped to meet some of the extraordinary people who care for each other¬†under such difficult circumstances, but I didn’t foresee the gratitude they expressed for my visit or the humility I would feel as I was given a homemade jar of fruit.
I remember the scores of children I met in the township areas and my joy being with them in all their energy and youthful exuberance, despite most of them having lost one or both parents to HIV. I remember how touched I was when one of the children gave me a beaded necklace he had made for me of the flag of South Africa.
I treasure this necklace and will be wearing it on December 2 at All Things Beaded and Beyond, our fundraiser for Hospice West Gauteng.¬†I hope I’ll see you there, too.
Karen Nash is director of Alive Grief Support Services, the bereavement support program of Alive Hospice.