My Visit to Blessed Gérard's Nursing, Social and Hospice Centre
Report of the Vice President of the British Association of the Order of Malta Lady Patricia Talbot of Malahide
The beauty of the country and the glorious sunny weather greeted me on my first visit to South Africa. I wanted to spend some time at Blessed Gérard's Nursing, Social and Hospice Centre and Children's Home in Mandeni in the heart of Zululand. I received a very warm welcome from Clare Kalkwarf, who runs the hospice together with Father Gerhard. Unfortunately, he was not there because he was in Germany on a begging trip for the hospice. Very soon I was able to spend time with the staff, the patients and the children. This was a very rewarding and humbling experience for me. Darkest clouds are breaking over Africa and especially this area of Zululand with an AIDS epidemic that threatens to wipe out an entire generation of young people - thirty year olds and younger. Thousands have already died in the last ten years. In many families, only the grandparents and their grandchildren remain. Many of them are HIV positive themselves. One grandmother was left with her young grandchildren and nine graves on her small plot. It is a bottomlessly sad situation that deprives many Zulu of their homes, food and money. 83% have no work and what is worse, the traditional values of their culture within and outside the family are being destroyed by Western influence and promiscuity. Therefore, this epidemic is getting visibly out of control. The hospice, now eight years old, is run with total dedication by Father Gerhard, Clare Kalkwarf and a few other people. It has three floors and includes a beautiful chapel, offices and guest rooms. They received a very welcome gift of 40 beds from donors in America just as the hospice was being completed.
There is also accommodation for about 40 children on the upper floor with good and safe access to the playgrounds. Many of the children are HIV positive and will probably live to be ten years old at the most. The children go to school and, as far as is possible in a hospice, they lead normal lives. Most of them are orphans and will stay there as long as necessary. Some go home if their families can take care of them. The hospice, which can accommodate up to 40 AIDS patients, is run with full dedication by a team that includes Father Gerhard, Clare, a doctor, nurses and helpers, many of whom are volunteers. There are also people from abroad who spend some time there to help the patients. One of these is Lillian Molloy from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who spends a month of her holiday each year teaching first aid. She does valuable work. Clare is a highly dynamic individual who has given her life to caring for patients and children over the years. It is also her respect for the staff and her encouragement of all the staff that must awaken in them a great awareness of how meaningful it is what they do for the sick and dying. The hospice is run with all Christian values and all necessary love. Holy Mass is celebrated every morning. Staff and patients can attend. Many of them are non-Catholics. During my stay, I drove with a nurse to two home visits kilometres away in a very poor rural area. In both cases we returned with the patient in need of treatment. One was a baby girl of about six months whose mother was in hospital and the father could not feed the baby because he had no money. It was malnourished to an alarming degree because it was only given sugar water for three months. While I was still there myself, it was already responding to treatment with the right nutrients. Hopefully it will be able to return to its family. Among others, the British Association of the Order of Malta has already given money and promised further help to continue the work of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard, for which they are extremely grateful. They are thinking of us all in their daily intercessions. My final thoughts on these memorable days are that this is truly a most vital and important work that must go on to alleviate some of the terrible suffering and pain of these poor people dying of AIDS and to help educate them as Clare and her team are doing, and she says: "If the Brotherhood can save even one life, it will be worth all the great effort." It is a true miracle what these people are doing wonderfully and full of dedication for the Zulu people who live in this very sad country. Please remember them in all your prayers.