Feast of Life - 1 December 2007

We celebrated World AIDS Day with a "Celebration of Life" for all our patients on HAART.

A large group of 70 patients came to the celebration. This is more than half of all our patients in the HAART treatment phase.

Father Gerhard welcomed the amazingly large gathering who had accepted our invitation to come to the hospice and celebrate that through their successful antiretroviral treatment they are proving that AIDS is not a death sentence, but a challenge and an invitation to live their lives to the fullest and have joy in it.

Father Gerhard expressed his deep gratitude to all who are part of our HAART programme and especially to those who have made it possible.

Father Gerhard thanked

The patients for their trust,

the treatment workers for their help,

our former doctors in the HAART programme (Dr. Shembe, Dr. Gabela, Dr. Nkabinde and Dr. Mdletshe) and the current doctor of our care centre Dr. Siluma, who started his service on 1 November 2007;

our senior doctor Dr. Thabethe, who has always helped out when help was needed,

our nurse Sister Liz Coetzer,

our therapy counsellor Qinisani Wiseman Zulu and announced that Patrick Dube is now working with him in his role as therapy counsellor doing home visits for treatment supervision.

our therapy counsellor Sthembile Masuku who is assisting Sister Liz in her duties and announced that therapy counsellor Xolile Nxumalo is now working with her to take over her duties in February 2008 when Ms Masuku will leave for nursing school.

the United States Government and its President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in Africa (PEPFAR), which is our main sponsor for the HAART programme,

the Catholic Relief Services Consortium (CRS), which administers PEPFAR funds and is responsible for quality and efficiency control,

the AIDS Department of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, which is the liaison between us and CRS,

all other donors, and

all other full-time and volunteer staff in the programme.

Father Gerhard asked the patients to spread the word by word of mouth that we would like to offer our services to many more AIDS patients and he announced that we will soon be doing voluntary HIV testing ourselves.

He also introduced to the patients the idea of inviting those of them who are interested to be trained as counsellors. Then they could also help with home visits and support and encourage each other to continue the treatment, which is absolutely essential for long-term success.

Father Gerhard also informed the patients about our intention to establish support groups where patients can meet voluntarily, talk to each other about common concerns, advise each other on how best to cope and support each other in many different ways.

We got very positive and encouraging spontaneous reactions to our suggestions.

Then he asked the patient who has been on antiretroviral treatment the longest to light a candle with an AIDS ribbon wrapped around it in memory of all the people who have lost their lives to AIDS, and we sang a song in Zulu to commemorate the dead.

We then all enjoyed a healthy and wholesome meal from our Care Centre kitchen.

Our treatment counsellor Mr Qinisani Wiseman Zulu, who does the home visits to monitor medication, spoke to the patients and encouraged them to get excited about our new ideas of training some of them as counsellors and establishing support groups.

One of our patients made herself the spokesperson for everyone and thanked us with moving words for all the efforts we have put into the HAART programme, making it such an enormous success. As the crowd erupted in joyful dancing and singing, Father Gerhard could not hold back the tears of joy at the sight of a crowd of happy and strong people, full of energy and vitality, celebrating their saved lives, knowing that they would all be dead if they had not received the treatment. And we are proud to be able to give it to them.

Reverend Victor R Nxumalo - a treatment worker for an AIDS patient - wrote us this letter and asked us to publish it anywhere we would like:

"I salute all the leaders of this programme.
I would like to thank everyone who works here very much.
I don't quite know how to express myself, but I assure them of my gratitude.
They are full of love, they take care of the sick.
I attribute the care I have received to God.
A sick person is a lot of work, but they take care of them.
They help people lovingly.
They go from house to house to visit the sick.
I am a pastor.
I do many things wrong, but in this place I have learnt many things.
All the things I have learnt have been so good and uplifting for my life.
I visit many institutions in South Africa.
Unfortunately, I must confess that there are some institutions that call themselves the same as you (i.e. hospice), but they are not comparable to here.
There was a time when my sister's son was very sick, close to death, and I gave up.
I said: God, You took away his mother and father and now You have taken away him.
He is very sick.
Now he is also dying.
How good that You did not take him away at that time.
I had money, so I left him in the hospital in Stanger.
Do you know how I waited?
I waited for a call to come and collect his body.
After four weeks I found out he was here.
I came here to see one of the nurses.
I think she was quite strict.
She didn't beat around the bush, but I had never been consistent.
I was in the wrong and I told her so.
I apologised.
Thank you very much Father Gerhard and her staff.

Victor R Nxumalo"

After our sister set him straight, he was consistent, attended the HAART preparation course (which the patient's respective treatment worker must also attend) and his nephew was able to start antiretroviral treatment and is now chirpy and strong and will be able to live for many years to come.