This is my second post about unsung angels. The focus is on two ordinary houses in an ordinary backstreet where you’d never guess that big things are happening. Angels work quietly, humbly, often invisibly. These houses — Gilead and Rivoningo — are nonprofit community care centres, run by a handful of churches (www.tlf.org.za) and often existing on a day-to-day hand-to-mouth basis.
The successful treatment of various diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB, diabetes and mental illness depends on long-term medication, a healthy life style and good nutrition. For many people in South Africa, that’s an impossibility. They can’t keep up their treatment because they have no family support system, and what money they do have has to be spent on basic priorities like food and shelter.
The situation became desperate when national policies of de-institutionalisation came into effect; mental institutions were forced to release stabilised patients into the community. These people seldom have family or any other kind of support system, and stigma and prejudice reduce their chance of getting a job to next to nothing. As a result, more and more people who live with mental illness simply fall through the gaps.
At Rivoningo and Gilead, the atmosphere is like an ordinary home — there are smells of baking and a feeling of acceptance. For the people who live here, an “ordinary” home is actually something truly “extraordinary”. Respect and kindness are very special. Daily routines of work, bed and regular meals are not things they take for granted.
The carers accomplish a lot more than serving supper, passing on gardening skills, or even that all-important task of allowing people to die with dignity. Apart from supporting 130 people with chronic and terminal illness, their goals include spreading awareness about living with physical and psycho-social illnesses, providing basic health care to about 5,000 people (eg HIV counselling and testing and TB screening), and, sometimes, helping them find a new place in society.
Rivonigo was first established as a hospice for terminally ill people from vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in 2005. Not only do homeless people find loving and respectful care here, but they also learn to take responsibility for their own medication and nutrition. Some of those diagnosed as terminally ill have recovered and gone back to their own communities to start afresh.
Gilead (photo right) is a move-on facility with space for 26 people with mental illness. It was started in 2011 with the main goal of helping these people learn to live independently and manage their own lives so they can re-enter society. (Thanks for the photos, Marti.)