Angels that Fly

Ever since I heard the saying "angels fly because they consider themselves lightly", I loved it. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously.

However, I recently experienced this saying in a totally different context. I was introduced to four ladies that take themselves and what they do very seriously. They find their purpose in serving those most severely beaten down by life. And they find their joy seeing, once in a while, a healed wound a stroke victim walking again.

When I was hunting for a topic for my next article when I came across the Association for the Physically Disabled (APD) on the Internet. I started reading about their home-based care services and a few minutes later I was chatting to Miemie Retsuri, Manager of APD's Home Based Care.

I met her at the APD offices in a small meeting room sparsely furnished with hand me downs from yesteryear.

Miemie tells me that APD's roots go back almost 100 years to 1915 when the then Chairman of Rand Mines (Mr RW Shumacher) and his wife, Hope, donated their home Pallinghurst as a home for sick and needy children. Pallinghurst became Hope Home, managed by the Hope Convalescent Home Committee. In 1934 the Hope Committee formed the Cripples' Care Association of the Transvaal and from there they went about establishing branches all over South Africa. In 1987 the Cripples' Care Association of the Transvaal became Association for the Physically Disabled (APD) and the National body (established in 1939 as the National Council for the Care of Cripples in South Africa) was renamed The National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPDSA).

Three supervisors for the Greater Johannesburg region joined us for the interview. Tebogo Itumeleng supervises care workers in Soweto, Zanele Mashaba supervises Central Johannesburg and surrounds, while Stellah Madi is in charge of Tembisa. Between them they supervise 19 caregivers that currently provide home-based care to approximately 150 disabled persons across the three regions.

What does home based care entail? We go to the homes of our clients and see to as much of their needs as we can; we bath them, we help them to eat, we dress their wounds and manage their bedsores, we assist with bladder and bowel management and so on.

Do you only manage quadriplegic and paraplegics? No, we manage stroke patients, amputees, end stage cancer or HIV, severe arthritis as well as paraplegic and quadriplegic clients.

Do you have your own transport? No, we make use of public transport and where that is not available, we walk. It becomes difficult in the winter or when it rains.

Do you provide a 24-hour home care service? No, during visits we also train family members and friends to care for them when we are not there.

What are the biggest challenges that you experience? The lack of funding. We get subsidies from the Department of Social Development and the Department of Health, which is less that R500 000 per year. Funding from NLDTF and the private sector are not guaranteed and the entire programme depends heavily on donations. We do charge for our services- R11 per visit, but only if the client can afford it, which they cannot in 75% of cases. It is very bad when we see what the client needs but we cannot provide it because of a lack of funds.

Also, when clients reach a stage where the family can no longer cope and we need to place the client in a frail care facility, it becomes very difficult as existing homes are filled to capacity.

If you had a wish list, what would be on it? Donations: funds, food, medical supplies, dressings. Perhaps vehicles to transport us - it would save time. Donations are very up and down and in recent years it has been very down.

Your clients often live in very poor areas. Isn't it dangerous? No, not really. The communities know us and respect us. They look after us.

The work is very draining emotionally. What lifts you? When a client with a stroke starts walking again or when clients get better - that is a great reward.

And the APD? Does it have a rewards system? Yes, we have staff awards at our annual AGM and annual guaranteed bonuses. Sometimes we also get pampered; we get taken to lunch or we receive gift vouchers. But the last time that happened was in 2010.

What makes you sad? When a client dies. We get to know them well and they become like family. When they die, we feel the loss.

In the work of home based care I believe that proud minds will perish but it seems to me that humble hearts thrive.