I originally hoped that by shadowing a Home Based Care (HBC) volunteer, or caregiver, I would gain a better understanding of the functioning of the organization for the purpose of writing a grant proposal that we were working on together. Of course, after spending a morning with a long-time caregiver, Florah Keitsemetse, I learned more than just the roles and responsibilities of a caregiver. I was able to experienced firsthand the love, compassion, and dedication that goes into this position. I saw the emotional rewards, and especially, the challenges that come with volunteering as a HBC caregiver.
Two of the HBC staff members took me to meet Florah at her home on a sunny, spring day a few weeks ago. She was expecting us and immediately greeted us warmly. Proudly, she showed me a small hut that was full of fat, white chickens which she told me she was raising to sell to make an income for her family. I promised to buy one someday but only with the agreement that she would do the killing and de-feathering first! Florah is an older lady herself, but she seemed healthy and very active. I asked her, though a translator, how long she has been a caregiver. She replied that she has been with the HBC Society since it began in 1996. She added that before this she was a volunteer for another HIV/AIDS community organization. When questioned about why she would give up so much of her time over the years to this organization she simply said that she has seen the suffering of so many people who have no one to care for them, especially those with HIV/AIDS. I reflected to myself that it must have taken a lot of courage to take on the role of a caregiver to people living with HIV/AIDS during the 1990’s at the height of the epidemic when there were no ARV treatments and fear and stigma of those living with HIV/AIDS was very strong.
Florah then sadly informed us that the patient we were scheduled to visit with that morning had passed away the night before. She had just heard about it from the family herself. The patient was a young woman who had been referred to the HBC Society by the local hospital a few months ago. She was HIV positive and was also diagnosed with cancer, most likely what is called an opportunistic illness because it sees the opportunity to easily attack the already weak immune system of a person living with HIV/AIDS.
We decided that we would still visit the family of this patient and share our sympathies. When we arrived Florah was greeted warmly by the grieving family. It was clear to me that they were comforted by her presence. We gave the family our condolences and Florah promised them that she would come back soon to visit with them. We left after a few minutes and I asked Florah to tell me more about the patient and her role with the family. She told me that she went to visit the patient almost everyday to bathe her, make sure she was eating properly, taking her medicine, and going to her doctor’s visits. She said sometimes the patient was strong and vibrant but lately she had been very weak. She told us that the family loved her very much and took care of her as best they could, but because they were struggling financially it was very difficult for them at times.
Then we went to visit another, newly referred patient. This man was having circulation problems which had caused his legs to swell up and also made breathing difficult. Due to these health conditions he stated that he could no longer work on his farm which was his only means of providing for his family of five. Florah explained to me that in this case one of her main roles would be to help connect this family to social support systems in the community such as the social work office where they could receive some food rations to help support the family until his health improved and he could go back to work.
After this we took Florah back home. All morning I had been struck by this woman’s compassion for others and her strength in times of tragedies like the death of the patient whose family we had visited earlier. I asked her how she copes with such tragedies and challenges in her job. She replied that it is very hard for her because she loves all of her patients like they are her own family members. She said that she will grieve with the family and support them for as long as they need her. I think that Florah is drawn to this kind of work because she is a natural caregiver and has so much love to give others, especially those who are suffering. I told her that I thought she was a very good and strong person and that she is an inspiration to others. She smiled and seemed a little bit embarrassed by the compliments as though she is not used to being the one receiving the care and compassion.
My hope was to write about this experience and simply share it with others. There are many people like Florah working at the HBC Society and other organizations here in Mmadinare. They need your support to be able to continue to do the things that they do and to expand their services to those who need it most. If you are able to give anything to support the HBC Society of Mmadinare then please go to this link and read more about a project we are currently working on with them that needs funding.
Written by: Lindsey “Lesego” Thomas
U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer