Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard

Piers Birtwistle

for his volunteer service at Blessed Gérard's Care Centre which runs
Blessed Gérard's Hospice, Blessed Gérard's Children's Home, Blessed Gérard's Community Development Centre, Blessed Gérard's AIDS Education Programme and Blessed Gérard's Friendship Club
in Mandeni / Zululand / South Africa.

Piers Birtwistle recorded his thoughts in a dairy and kindly gave us permission to publish it here:

17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 June 2005

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 July 2005

South Africa 2005

This is my journal I kept down in Mandeni, South Africa, during my stay working as a volunteer in an HIV AIDS hospice. This is to let everyone know who so kindly donated money to the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard where their money went. I am afraid you might have to print it out as it does go on a bit, but I felt I had to write what I thought at the time so I wouldn’t forget all the special moments and the people I met.

Explaining HIV/AIDS.

HIV, stands for Human Immune Virus this is the virus you get mainly through unprotected sex but it can be passed on in other ways. This then develops into AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. This means that your body has an Immune Deficiency. Your body is made up of red blood cells which carry oxygen around your body and white cells which carry your fighter cells or the ones that fight off diseases, viruses, flu and any other sicknesses. Once you have developed AIDS this kills off your white blood cells and therefore you ability to fight off illness. So no one dies of AIDS they die of an AIDS related illness, most commonly in first world countries pneumonia, but in Africa in can be anything.

Friday 17th June

Woke up on the plane from London at 6.30am having had a very fitful nights sleep even though I had consumed 3 Donormyl, Frances strongest sleeping pills to ease the 11 hour flight from London.

Lillian Molloy my lovely friend from Newcastle who I had known for one week a year in Lourdes for 22 years, did I know her, in the next four weeks we would find out.

We were served the most delicious breakfast consisting of a selection of cheeses and meats, there was fresh orange juice, yogurt and steaming hot coffee to try and bring me out of my sleeping pill induced state of semi-consciousness.

We landed at Johannesburg International airport 20 minutes early. We collected our bags and then had a 20 minute walk from the International arrivals hall to the domestic departure area outside of the airport, which was a welcome breath of fresh air after such a long flight.

We then boarded our flight to Durban which left on time for the short hop south. At Durban airport where the temperature had risen during the morning to a very comfortable 80 degrees, we were met by Father Gérard and Clare Kalkwarf who we were to be spending the next three and a half weeks with. Before the drive back to Mandeni where the hospice is, we had lunch at the airport and my first South African beer called a Castle which was delicious.

Then we had a drive of about one and a half hours through miles and miles of green fields of sugar cane rising 10 feet from the parched soil where all the loose foliage had been burnt away to make it easier for the workers who cut these bamboo like rods down by hand. Quite extraordinarily during the burning of the fields the cane remains intact and only gets charred but not burnt.

We arrived at the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard (BBG) centre where we were shown where we were to be sleeping for the rest of our stay. Had a wonderful dinner and retired to bed at 11.00pm

Saturday 18th

Got up at 8.30am, showered and went upstairs to the breakfast room to join the others. There were two German girls who were working at the centre as volunteers. Firstly there was a German girl called Susanne (Susie) aged 26 who had a huge smile and you could see why all the children loved her. She laughs incessantly at what appears to be nothing at all, how inwardly happy and contented she must be. Then there is Bernadette aged 20 who really just doesn’t say anything at all. She is quite pretty but I don’t think she speaks very much English or maybe she is very shy, easy to understand when you have got Lillian and me chatting away ten to the dozen to try and compete with.

The morning was spent looking around the hospice and being given an induction course. This involved a lesson on exactly what causes AIDS, the myths surrounding it and the biology of it. Then Father showed me all the work the hospice covers, including all the outreach and educational programs, and then lunch was served, as it was to be every day at 12.00pm. Then at 1.00pm with Father Gérard at the wheel of his ambulance, myself in the front seat and Lillian and Bernadette in the back, we set off for a tour of Fathers parish.

On of the most frightening aspects of the HIV/AIDS virus is the ignorance surrounding it. Zulu men think that they can cure themselves of the virus by having sex with either a virgin or a baby. Some people even believe that you can get cured of AIDS by eating garlic, potatoes or beetroot.

In the evening we all go upstairs where there is a tiny chapel which can take 8 people which with me, Lillian, the 2 German girls, Clare, Father Severin and Father Gérard we are pretty close to capacity, and have a lovely intimate Mass.

In bed by 10.00pm, asleep by 10.05pm.

Sunday 19th

Got up and had breakfast and was in the chapel by 9.25am for a 9.30am Mass.

The Zulu helpers sang the most glorious and moving Zulu songs and Christian hymns all singing in different descants and in perfect pitch, it made my skin tingle it was so beautiful.

Then at 11.00am we set off in a mini bus to go and have lunch at a place called Eshowe, with a beautiful old fort called Fort Nongqai, which was the scene of a great battle between the British and the Zulus. We drove over the mountains on very dusty roads going through the heart of Zululand. All the Kraals, the Zulu’s homes, which were perfectly kept, dotted the hills as far as the eye could see. Children running around outside their huts or tending their cattle. Mothers and children coming back up the hills with enormous buckets of water perched precariously on their heads to bring water home to cook with, to wash with and to drink. It is an uphill struggle to educate the Zulus as to the importance of boiling the water before they drink it, as periodic outbreaks of cholera strain the limited resources of the local hospitals.

We stopped off on the way home to supply ourselves with cartons of milk, chocolate bars, peanuts and sweets for the children and arrived back at the hospice at 5.00pm in the middle of a power cut.

It was so strange having had sun all day at a wonderful 80 degrees and then it being dark by 5.15pm being in the middle of winter down here. I retired to my room to listen to Madam Butterfly on my indispensable I pod and then at 6.00pm the lights came on again. At 6.05 the lights went out again and so as the food had just been cooked we were invited to sit down and ear it there and then. Salad, pasta and cheese, a bit early for me but so be it. We sat at the table drinking wine until 9.45pm. Lillian then gave me a neck massage, having cricked my neck going over an unseen sleeping policeman very fast being driven by Father Schumacher as he was fondly known behind his back.

Monday 20th

6.30am my watch alarm clock goes and I jump out bed to a very overcast day with grey skies and ominous looking clouds gathering overhead. I showered, shaved had a cup of tea and was in the chapel by 7.25am ready for Mass. When I arrived the chapel was already filling up with AIDS patients too ill to walk, who had been pushed in in their beds. Some of them looked quite healthy and very serene and other looked terribly frail and emaciated. One of the side effects of the Anti-retroviral drugs (treatment for AIDS) is feeling the cold, so although for me it was 75 degrees and I was in a T shirt, they had sweaters, fleeces and blankets on top of all that. I was sweating just looking at them. A lovely Mass was given by Father Gérard with Father Severin concelebrating with him and again the wonderful Zulu volunteers singing their glorious songs.

After breakfast it was up to the office to finalize my induction into the BBG. A final talk from Father, then I went over the rules and regulations of the order and was duly invited to become a member, a great honour.  Then Clare gave me a very comprehensive tour of the hospice covering everything from the children’s wards to the kitchen, laundry and morgue.  There were also two rooms for patients who only had hours to live, so they could die there with dignity and without people staring at them.  This is also so as not to upset the other patients who otherwise would have people dying in the next door bed quite regularly.

Sadly, a patient died last night.  I had not yet met him so as yet I have not had my emotional ability to cope with death tested.  I am hoping I will be alright but to be honest, I have serious doubts about how I will cope having got to know a particular child or adult, how I will deal with it when I go down to breakfast in the morning to be told one of them has died.  Then I was taken up to the children’s home and introduced to all the children.  My heart melted as they came up to me and introduced themselves, wanted to hold my hand, and wanted to know my name.

Most of them spoke very good English, some very definitely the naughty ones and team leaders, others were much quieter and I could see I would have to work hard to get to know them.  It is all too easy to befriend the popular children who you don’t have to make such an effort with.  I think I shall make a concerted effort to bring some of the quieter ones out of their shells.

My Tissot touch watch has got them all very excited.  When you put your finger on the glass, the hands move round telling you the date, year, it’s a compass, a thermometer, a chronograph and an altimeter.  All wonderful to get a child’s attention.  Then Susie and I drove off to pick up six children who go to a crèche in Mandini every day.

Getting into the car, first you have a bolt which goes through the gear lever as a security precaution to unlock and remove, and then as soon as you shut the doors you lock them and never open your windows – however hot it is outside.  The quantity of car hijackings in this area is amongst the highest in South Africa and that is saying something when you are in the car jacking capital of the world.

We came back and took the children out into the playground to go on the swings and the climbing frames.  The children are so trusting they come up and hold your hand and very quickly gravitate to jumping up and clinging onto your neck with vice-like grips.  This is because the Zulus are not by nature a tactile race of people and when the children find people who are, they are desperate to cling onto them and touch them.  At one point I had about 15 children ranging in age from two to eight hanging onto me, climbing all over me, and generally wanting attention.  I must say this, with a certain amount of embarrassment, or fear, but there is one boy, aged  four, called Siyabonga who has full-blown AIDS and has a weeping ulcer on his lip with fresh blood on it.  A couple of times he unexpectedly caught me unawares and planted a kiss on my cheek about two inches from my mouth.  Well I must say I felt very uneasy with this and could not really concentrate on the other children because I was keeping an eye out for Siyabonga.  When he got too close to my face I held his arm, in, I hope, a caring way, but not allowing his lips with fresh blood on, to come too close.  I happily picked him up and threw him in the air to play with but I felt very guilty at the way I was dealing with, or not dealing, with him.  Other than that I had a wonderful afternoon playing with the children.

It was one of the children’s birthdays, and the kitchen staff had made three wonderful sponge and cream birthday cakes for him and the other children with candles on, and we all sang Happy Birthday followed by, For He’s Jolly Good Fellow.  Considering where we were, it all felt quite surreal.

Then Lillian and I walked to the local supermarket about twenty minutes away to get some wine to replenish Father’s stock and then had to speed walk back as the sun started to disappear behind the hills to get back before dark, when it is unadvisable to be out walking on the streets.  Supper at 6.00pm consisting of a Potato Bake, watched Will & Grace Episode 1, put a wash on and was in bed by 9.15pm. 

Tuesday 21st

Two patients died last night.  7.30am – our daily forty minute Mass was held in the chapel but this time it was in full Zulu.  It is the most magical language, its like singing – it goes up and down with the letter Q being pronounced by putting the tongue on the roof of your mouth and creating a suction and its makes a clicking sound by removing your tongue quickly.

We then prayed for the two patients who had died in the night.  Lillian had been down earlier in the night to hold one lady’s hand and said prayers with her until she died.  So when she died she knew she was loved and was going onto a better place with no pain and to be reunited with her small daughter who God had called to him two months earlier.

I then spent the morning with ten 1 – 8 year old children, teaching them to count and do their alphabet and learning all the colours of animals painted onto the walls of the playroom.

I kept thinking Bolla would die laughing if she saw me now.  This is the man who would cancel lunch with his best friend when he found out her two perfectly behaved children were joining them for lunch.  I then went into competitive mode and to my horror found myself competing with these tiny Zulu children who could draw the best crayon drawing.  I was really making an effort to win our own unspoken competition.  I am becoming a little easier with Siyabonga, maybe it’s because his lip has stopped bleeding today; but it still looks terribly sore.  There is a very good reason why we all carry many pairs of surgical gloves with us at all times.  I haven’t had to use them yet, but better to have them than not. 

1pm – 2.30 pm

All the children have a nap. This gives me time to go to my room and catch up with my journal.  It was raining this afternoon so we all had to stay inside.  I was teaching the children all sorts of children’s songs which I dragged up from the recesses of I don’t know where.  Much to my amazement I asked them what songs they knew and would like to sing to me; I had 24 Zulu children singing We All Live in a Yellow Submarine – quite strange.  More drawing and all sorts of silly games kept us going until supper was served at 6.00pm.

Bedtime, prayers followed with the children thanking God for their food, home, clothes and shelter followed by the Hail Mary. Magical and very special.  Got to bed at midnight, eventually fell asleep about 1.00am and awoke at 5.00am. Nine hours sleep in three nights – I just don’t know why I can’t sleep – I think it’s because I have so many thoughts going through my head, so many questions, why has God allowed all this terrible suffering.  Is this a vocation for me?  What makes me happy?  Is it my life in London – or it is social work?  I just don’t know.  I feel confused and mixed up hopefully God will point me in the right direction – whatever that might be.  It is raining really hard now and has been for fifteen hours.  Very unusual at this time of the year.

Wednesday 22nd

Mass at 7.30am – until 8.15am. A cup of tea and then off to the classroom to hear Lillian teaching first aid to the new Zulu volunteers for an hour before my shift starts at 10.00am on the HIV/AIDS wards.  My first job was dressing a woman who had the worst bedsores I have ever seen.  She was about fifty years old and had been lying in her bed without moving at her house, and had developed bedsores on the small of her back and buttocks.  The main sore on the small of her back was very deep and you could see the bones of her spine.  The infection had spread to her rectum and vagina and it looked impossibly painful.  We cleaned it all up, spraying antiseptic fluid on the area, dressed it and bandaged it and then moved onto the next patient.  All we did all morning was clean and dress bed sores for the patients.  A new pair of gloves had to be used, not only for each patient, but also for different wounds on the same patient.  I must have gone through 40 pairs of gloves that morning alone.

One of the worst cases I saw was a lady whose heels had been eaten away by originally having bed sores, then not treating them which had developed into secondary infection, and was now two deep holes and the back of her heels.  Red raw muscle tissue glistening at the back of her foot.  Quite a shock for the first time and knowing each patient was HIV positive, rather too much blood around for my first day on the wards – but I’m sure by tomorrow I’ll be fine.

On the whole the patients are very quiet and smile graciously as we go about our business of tending them and cleaning up afterwards.  They were very patient with me being a first timer, but hopefully I was getting the hang of it quite quickly.  The afternoon was spent doing grown up nappy rounds. 

Half the people were literally skin and bone, very easy to move around to change their nappies.  You put them on their side, took off the full nappy; cleaned them up and put a new nappy under them – then rolled them back onto their back ; did up the nappy and that was that. Except the smell which is quite hard to get used to.  It only takes a couple of days and then, like in Lourdes, it’s fine – you acclimatize.  At 7.00pm we have the nurses and volunteers meeting, which involves giving a verbal report to the incoming shift on each and every patient on the wards so they are made aware of any problems any of the patients are having and can be looked after accordingly.

7.15pm – back in my room, absolutely shattered. I really hope I will sleep tonight.  I am going to try not to think about today when I turn the lights off so maybe I can get a full night’s sleep because if I don’t I’m going to be no use to anyone tomorrow.  Lots of text messages on my phone wishing me well with my work out here which are really encouraging.

Thursday 23rd June

Finally I slept through the night.  I missed Mass at 7.30am and eventually went upstairs at 9.00am.  Then on duty at 10.00am.  The first person I dealt with was a small child called Bongani who had Foetal Alcohol Syndrome He was born to an alcoholic mother and was about three foot tall and because of his mothers drinking problem that is as tall as he is every going to be.  He is so happy and cheerful and such a joy to be around.

One of the worse cases I have come across of bedsores was a woman who was between 30 and 40 years old.  We went across to her bed with my Zulu buddy called Wiseman.  We turned her over onto her tummy and took her dressing off at the base of her spine.  There was a large pink gash of about two inches long which on first inspection I thought was an infected rectum.  On closer examination it was a hole going so deep into her body you could see her spine.  The hole was surrounded by dead flesh and pus.  First of all we tore away all the dead flesh and washed away the blood and pus.  Then we got some gauze and put disinfectant on it.  Rolled the gauze up into the size of the wound and filled the hole with it.  The patient was quite obviously in a great deal of pain and very distressed.  As Wiseman was inserting the gauze my feet were twitching and my buttocks were squeezing together with agitation, and I very seriously had to think of things other than what were doing.  The poor woman, what she must have gone through but yet suffered her pain and indignity with such courage.  Four more of the same, but none as severe as this woman.

In the afternoon I was given four children aged one and a half, two, three and three and a half years old to look after for two hours.  Holy Moses – if Bolla could see me now!.  I took them all out onto the terrace where I started to sing them songs, dragged up from the recesses of my youth.

I found that much to my dismay my rendition of Old Macdonald’s Farm was fine until ‘In that farm he had a pig’.  I used to rather enjoy pig sounds until today – but now it hurt my nose to oink.  The children thought this was hilarious.  After 15minutes I had run out of children’s songs and so started singing some Bob Dylan.  If anyone could see me now – a one and a half year girl on my lap with the most enormous beautiful brown eyes, looking at me in a curious fascinated way.  Three children in strollers under the age of three and a half – in a semi circle around me, and me singing Blowin in the Wind, on a warm day in South Africa in an AIDS Hospice – I had to pinch myself.

In the evening we had a Braai which is a South African barbeque.  Bernadette, our young German girl, is leaving tomorrow – so this is a BBG tradition.  In our sitting room there is small terrace off it. About 8ft x 8ft perched 10 feet off the ground above the terrace below, with a barbecue fashioned out of an old oil drum, cut in half sitting in the corner.  We feasted high on the hog that night – steaks, chops, enormous sausages – lots of salads and industrial quantities of the delicious local wine.

Father Severin came and was looking very poorly.  He has diabetes, and in the last three days his feet have gone from being quite normal to very swollen with open sores on them.  He has been told that when he rests he must put his feet up higher than his heart to allow the blood to flow.  He is a very stubborn man who has not been following nurse’s orders.  When Clare told him not doing what he was told to do could either result in him having his legs amputated; or even losing his life he replied ‘Maybe God wanted him now and it was time to let go’.  I think he is very tired and thinks his time is ready.  He has been a missionary for 38 years in Africa and certainly looks his age – and a little bit.  He speaks Zulu like a native and has been a friend of Father Gérard’s for over 30 years. He has got the most wonderful smile and radiates goodness and holiness, a very special man to be around.

A funny story happened in a hospital in Paris where Father Severin was admitted for something or other.  He was in a public ward.  Fathers Severin and Gérard, who was visiting him, wanted to discuss some financial matters, and did not want to be overheard.  So here we have one German priest talking to a Bavarian monk in a hospital in Paris speaking fluent Zulu so as not to be understood by people in the next door beds. Father Gérard said they were getting some pretty strange looks.

Before I went off duty I had a last look around the wards.  Saying goodnight to the patients I was overwhelmed by the cup of love that overflowed so very much in this place.  There is so much love and compassion you can almost touch and smell it.  It is tangible and pervades every nook and cranny of the hospice. God is in, on and around every patient we have. The love that is in this hospice sends shivers down my spine. This place is heaven on earth, never have I or will I know such goodness, love and devotion mixed with such evil that pervades this area known as Death Valley.  All the patients are cared for with so much warmth, care and love, I feel very privileged to be working here, god brought me to this place, and now it is up to me to decide what I will do with this opportunity.  I have never seen anything like this in all the places I have worked in.  You set an example and people follow you.  Father Gérard is an inspiration.  He is adored, loved and respected and I expect each and every worker and volunteer here, would if called upon, die for him. He works tirelessly and his reward is the satisfaction he gets from knowing the difference he has made to other peoples lives, how he has touched these people and because of him they can die with dignity. Can there be any greater reward; he must be the richest man in the world

During the day I am torn between crying with emotion, laughing at the absurdity of my situation and being overwhelmed, drowned;  almost suffocated with this avalanche of love, purity, honesty, decency and selflessness that everyone has here.  Once again I think how lucky I am to be amongst such very special people.  Simple things such as a tea party today, not just tea and cakes, but all the Zulu volunteers came in and sang. Each one picked up a child and danced with them; either on their shoulders or in their arms.

The children looked ecstatic they were having so much fun.  I am dancing with Siyabonga – the boy with full blown Aids and a weeping lip – on my shoulders – all my fear has gone. Not complacent, but not worried and having the time of my life.  We were doing a Zulu war dance which involves lifting up one leg high in the air and then stamping your foot on the ground and then doing the same with the other foot, this is the Zulu version of the Hacker, the Maori war dance, which is performed before they go into battle.  All the children thought this was great fun and culturally they are still in contact with their roots.  I almost burst into tears I was so happy. Being surrounded by all that uncomplicated love – no demands, no quid pro quo – just very good honest loving people who wanted nothing from you except respect and honesty. 

Friday 24th June

Spent the morning on the wards.  A little boy called Mandla who is thirteen years old and has the AIDS virus. He is one of the lucky ones who have been selected for the anti-retroviral treatment, so hopefully he will have an extended life expectancy.  He is at an age when, if his mother had had AIDS when he was born, he would be dead now.  He is too young to have contracted AIDS through consensual sex so the sad conclusion is that he must have been sexually abused and infected as a child.  He doesn’t talk very much – he just stares into space – no doubt recalling the traumas and abuses he suffered from his rapist.  Occasionally he looks at me and gives me a big grin and asks me something in Zulu which sadly I cannot answer or understand but I feel he is starting to trust me a little bit which is so rewarding.

We play a Zulu board game called Mlaba-laba  which is great fun.  I win one and then he wins one, we roar with laughter and we are both very happy sitting in the sun and him forgetting his troubles albeit for an hour or so.

He then gets tired very easily and so I help him off from the terrace and back to his bed where he lies down and watches the Bold and the Beautiful amongst other American soaps which are on from 9.00am until 9.00pm all day and every day and are followed religiously by everyone on the wards, even though some of them don’t speak a word of English.

Then at lunchtime I feed a girl called Nonclecle who has gone downhill a bit since yesterday but still managed to eat her fish and chips.  At around 6.00pm I was about to give Nonclecle her supper – she wasn’t looking very well, so I called Wiseman to come and have a look at her.  He said she had to be moved to Ward 10 which is a single bed ward you are put into when God is calling you.  This is so it doesn’t distress the other patients in their final hours.  We wheeled her into Ward 10 and Wiseman went and got Father. Three minutes later he arrived, dressed in his vestments and a bible and we all prayed together.

Wiseman and I sat on chairs either side of the bed, stroking her hands and arms.  In the final moments before someone dies, the last sense to go is touch, so we want her to know she is loved and wanted and is a special person.  I sat there for one a half hours watching as her life ebbed away – her face was skeletal with dark hollowed out cheeks. Her chin was almost sharp there was so little skin covering it.  Her eyes had started to close and you could see the bottom quarter of her big brown eyes as her lids started closing up for the last time.  She was gasping for air for about one hour – sucking with all her might to get oxygen into her lungs.  Then the last half an hour serenity came over her and she started breathing slower and more peacefully.  Wiseman and myself took it in turns to put some gauze into a glass of water and gently wiped her lips and squeezed drops of cool water into her mouth to keep the inside of her mouth hydrated to make sure her mouth wasn’t getting too dry with all this laboured breathing.

Her breathing got slower and slower and her head tipped over to one side so she was facing me and a solitary tear fell from her eye, slowly running down her cheek, until eventually it landed on her pillow and disappeared.  I was desperately trying to suppress my own tears, but had lost that battle some time earlier.  We were still holding her hands when Wiseman went and got Father who was just sitting down for dinner and he arrived at Ward 10 in less than a minute.  We all prayed for her – I couldn’t join in because I was so upset and when I opened my mouth to pray, all I could do was cry, having only fed her this morning – she was reaching the end of her journey on this earth and entering a wonderfully special place where there was no pain.  She was about to start the most important journey of her life – where God was waiting to meet her and welcome her into his arms and his kingdom.  Father laid his hands on her head and she gave one last small gasp and was gone.  I had been sitting there for an hour and half praying for God to take her as soon as he saw fit and now my prayers had been answered.

Whoever said death was beautiful was wrong – it is horrid, harsh and brutal.  Here was this once beautiful, proud Zulu woman lying there ravaged by the Devil’s work.  This woman had been brutalised by this seemingly incurable virus, but now she was at peace.  When she gave her last gasp of breath Father felt for a pulse and when he couldn’t find one he just looked at me and said; ‘she has started her journey’.  In floods of tears I walked out of the ward and down the corridor to get out of the hospice to be alone.  As I approached the glass door of the reception I could see the reflection of Father coming up behind me.  He followed me outside where I had stopped at a metal railing sobbing uncontrollably and put his arm around me and said nothing – which was just was I wanted.  We stayed silent for about ten minutes whilst I cried.  Then he started to talk to me in a very gentle way about how she was now happy and in a very special place and how God would be looking after her.  Then he started talking me through the constellations which took my mind off this traumatic experience.  He then invited me to come upstairs and join everyone for dinner but I was not in the mood to be around anyone else. I wanted to be alone more than at any time in my life. So I went upstairs by myself and had another good cry. Then Lillian, very sweetly left the dinning room and came to my room and asked if I wanted a hug. I didn’t because I knew it would set me off again.  Anyway we hugged on her insistence which was probably quite a good idea because it felt good to share.

I opened up some emails from home which made me feel better. Drank a bottle of wine and went to bed after a very harrowing day.

Sat 25th June

Lillian woke me at 8.00am and said that an assessment team was going out and would I like to go with them.  Definitely, I said.  We left the hospice at 8.30am with Sister Sheilagh Schröder and a member of staff called Siyabonga (which means thank you in Zulu). Interestingly enough Zulu’s don’t have boys and girls names, all names are for either sex.  First we drove up into the Zulu hills looking for a women who had been reported as being ill by a neighbour.  We eventually found her house, and were led into this very dark and smelly room.  After my eyes had adjusted to the light (or lack of it), saw this old woman lying on a huge mattress covered in dirty blankets and old newspapers which had been used to soak up her urine.  Sister Sheilagh quickly assessed the situation and said she probably had stroke as she could not speak.

Her blanket was taken off her so Sister could see what the problem was.  As it was removed it had become stuck to the back of her legs and when the blanket was peeled back the skin came off with the blanket and the poor woman screamed in terrible pain.  We decided then are there she had to come back to the hospice with us in the ambulance.

We wrapped the sheet she was lying in around her and carried her the ten feet to where the stretcher was, because her hut was too small to get the stretcher into.  Half way across the room there was a loud ripping sound as the sheet split from the top to the bottom and this seventy year old woman fell through, hitting the concrete floor with her head with a terrible thud.  We picked her up again and carried her to the stretcher and put her into the back of the ambulance, feeling sick with what had just happened to this poor women.

Then we went off to find another person we had been given the address of.  After going down many heavily rutted dirt roads we found her hut.  We had to walk the last 200 yards because even the Hospice’s four wheeled drive ambulance could not make it down the final stretch.  Sheilagh once again assessed the situation and decided she had to come back with us as well.  Siyabonga and one of the Zulu relations of our patient, put her on a stretcher and bought her to the ambulance and we set off back to the Hospice.

We got back at 12.30pm and the two new patients were taken to the wards, cleaned; given new bedclothes and allocated a bed each.  I then went off and had some lunch.  When I had finished I went back to the wards to find our two new patients to see how they were getting on.  The older lady whom we dropped on the floor had died ten minutes ago.  Death was everywhere around here, I am praying we didn’t contribute to her death. I’m just going to have to get used to it.  I am terrified that a small child I have got to know will die.  I don’t know how I will cope with that; I’m pretty sure, rather badly.

In the afternoon Lillian and I spent our time in the children’s ward. Poor Siyabonga was very out of sorts and would not stop crying. I do just wonder what happened to him, he was obviously traumatized at a young age. He had scars on his body that suggested he had been beaten very severely.  Then at 4.00pm Father, Clare, Lillian, Susie and the two new Bavarian volunteers, Max and Gabi and I set off for Mtunzini about 50 kms due east of Mandini to have an outing to go and look at some mangrove swamps.  It look about an hour to reach and we stood on the bank of the river Umlalazi and watched whilst the fishermen pulled in ten pound salmons on their rods, and watched the sun disappear behind us.  Back to the minibus and off to a restaurant called the Clay Oven where I treated everyone to dinner.  Back home by 9.00pm and in bed and 10.00 – ready for St John’s Day tomorrow.

Sunday 26th June

6.30am. I have now worked out how to get my I POD to wake me up. I put the button on random selection and the I POD randomly chooses a track from the 6087 tracks I have pre-recorded.  I was woken up by Pavarotti singing Nessum Dorma (no one shall sleep from Turandot) Spooky!  I went downstairs at 7.00 am and went into the ward to see how the other lady we brought in yesterday was.  She had died ten minutes earlier – just as I was in the shower. She is so much happier where she is now.  Her emaciated, dirty, faeces ridden body had now been left vacated and she was off to the place of purity, love and sanctity.  A shelter from her tortured life. Good, I’m so happy for her. A good start to the day.

Today we celebrate St John’s Day with a huge party for 300 locals and great pageantry in the chapel.  Father, who loves to dress up, Clare, Lillian, Max and Gabi and two local doctors and myself all meet in the boardroom at 9.30am ready to process downstairs.  We were all dressed according to our rank. I was in my Knights of Malta choir dress with medal; as was Clare, being a Dame of Malta.  Lillian in her cape, being an Honorary Dedicated Member of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard. Max and Gabi in black waiting to be inducted as honorary dedicated members of BBG during the mass.  Father was resplendent in his roles of monk, knight and president of the BBG and heavily be medalled.  At 9.40am we set off down the small staircase to the ground floor, along the passage to the back entrance of the chapel.  As we entered, everyone stood up adding to the sense of occasion and making us feel far more important than we really were.

We went down the aisle to the front, genuflected in front of the tabernacle and took our seats.  It was a lovely service with everyone being thanked by Father for all the work being done throughout the year and then thanking me for the work I had done representing the Knights of Malta.  I felt a terrible fraud – I was not worthy of all this praise.  Then father gave out medals to about a hundred people who had officially become members of BBG, of which I was one and had yet another medal to hang round my neck – I was beginning to feel very Bling.

After Mass we all went outside where at 7.00am that morning we had been putting up tables and chairs and laying out the tablecloths for the day’s festivities.  There was a huge lunch for all and sundry, Zulu style. Father said he was expecting between fifty and three hundred people – Zulu’s decide on the day whether they are going to come to your party or not. ( so they are not that unlike some people I know in London)  About 300 hundred people eventually turned up.  A huge birthday cake for Father for a slightly premature 50th birthday celebration, ice cream, a huge bouncy castle and non-stop singing and dancing from the Zulu staff. How lucky these children are to have Father Gérard as their protector and guardian.  My back gave out half way through lunch and so I had to go back upstairs and lie down. Lillian very sweetly gave me some reflexology and a back massage and I fell asleep for two and half hours and woke up ready to take on the world again.

At 7.00pm all eight of us got into the minibus and drove to Ballito about 60kms south west of Mandini – towards Durban – to go out to supper to an Italian restaurant called Zucchini.  Pizza, fish and chicken and wine from the Stellenbosh region. All round it was a fabulous way to end a special day.

Monday 27th June

Today myself, Lillian, Max, Gabi, Susie and eleven children are going on a outing to Durban airport so that the children can see aeroplanes for the first time.  We arrived at the airport around 11.30am and went straight to the viewing deck. Well this was a first for me.  Going to an airport without going anywhere other than up to the first floor to watch aeroplanes take off and land. Damn I forgot my anorak!  Actually it was quite interesting, watching how quickly the luggage gets unloaded after the aeroplane comes to a halt.  The new catering arriving and Whoa I’m starting to write, discuss and be interested in plane spotting.  Quick, back to the AIDS ward.  The children loved it.  Can you imagine one week earlier two of the children we had with us had been living in an kraal (a round Zulu mud hut),  and here they were one week later watching aeroplanes take off and land, eating hamburgers and chips, drinking Coca Cola and playing in climbing frames having been driven to all this in a minibus.  They were very brave, because this must have been quite a cultural shock.  Asleep by 9.15pm.

Tuesday 28th June

Mass 7.30am. We left the centre at 9.30am to do an assessment with Sister Liz and Siyabonga.  We drove for about half an hour until we reached what looked like very decrepit and long forgotten gardening sheds scattered around an enormous stinking, sulphurous rubbish dump.  With the help of a local man we located the gardening shed we were looking for and knocked on the door.  We were let in by a man who turned out to be the boyfriend of the girl we went out to assess.  She was about twenty years old, very thin and was lying on a dirty unmade bed, hyperventilating.  Sister Liz took down all her details and decided that she needed to come back the centre with us.  She was suffering and had been treated in a local hospital for TB which is often AIDS related.

She had been discharged because the local government run, hospital had no money to keep her.  It is quite common in government run hospitals for patients to bring their own sheets and towels with them and when relations come and visit they often bring food because the hospital has run out.  We put her on a stretcher and took her out to the ambulance and back to the hospice.  There a bed was found for her, she was given a bath, put into clean sheets and a warm comfortable bed, probably the first for many years; if at all.

In the afternoon I was working on the wards doing general work, giving water to those who wanted it, making sure that the patients were comfortable and changing nappies that needed changing.  I keep a handful of rubber gloves in the pocket of my jeans to pull out whenever necessary.  I am very aware that I must keep my room keys in a separate pocket to my gloves.  I have this fear of putting a small hole in my gloves – having been pierced by one of the keys, and then getting some bodily fluid in the hole and onto a small scratch underneath. All these co-incidences coming together at the same time are very small but nonetheless I believe you cannot be too cautious and awareness is prevention.

In the evening, Father and I downloaded 450 pictures that Susie and I have taken and after dinner we had a slide show projected up onto the large white wall in the volunteer’s sitting room.  Father then took us through three years of his photography of Lourdes and various other religious functions and places he had attended.  Interestingly Father’s tourist pictures of London showed me a great deal more of the city than I had seen, and I have been living there for 25 years.  It is always the way – the visitor sees far more of your country as you do as a resident.

Zulu land really is a land of diversities.  You have palm trees, mangrove swamps – all the big five animals – it’s also an ornithologists dream – you get flocks of pygmy kingfisher birds flying around in large clouds darkening the skies, with their red beaks, yellow tummies and lapis lazuli wings.  You get the wonderful Paradise Flycatchers and the orange Thrushes looking quite similar to our own robin redbreasts.

Zulu land is home to nearly 700 of South Africa’s 900 birds.  The diversity is due to the range of habitats and the provinces unique position as a meeting place for tropical species and species from the western part of Southern Africa.  The Zulu Kingdom is also a garden paradise with an incredible range of plants, trees and grasses – both indigenous and exotic. The purple flowering jacarandas in Pietermaritzburg in September is something that no horticulturalist would want to miss I am told.  The Cosmos flowers growing in profusion alongside the country roads or the startling orange flowers of the indigenous snake lily will know that South Africans are truly blessed by nature’s wonders.

Wednesday 29th June

6.15am.  My I POD wakes me up – this time it’s Louis Armstrong singing What A Wonderful World – god moves in mysterious ways.  Downstairs for the nurse’s conference – handover at 6.45am then onto the wards.  I am assigned the children’s ward today.  I walk into a darkened room and the peaceful sound of children asleep greeted me.  Little groans and moans of contentment, security and love.  The whole day went by quite uneventfully.  All the usual playing of games with the children and just having a really wonderful day.

Thursday 30th June

6.45 am nurses conference. One person died during the night.  I was assigned to help Patrick, a young Zulu, to go around the wards, giving bed baths and changing dressings.  In Lourdes it is always men looking after men and women after women.  Here, whoever is on duty does whatever needs to be done to whoever.

So straight into the women’s ward. First person we washed was a women between 30-40 years old who had a skeletal body. We pulled back the sheets and took her night dress off, Patrick then gave me a sponge filled with soap and told me to get on with it. This I did but to be honest I felt very strange about it, I had never washed a grown up women before. Task finished we then moved on to the next one. By the time we had reached the end of the ward I felt much more comfortable. We then went into ward 8 which as I explained earlier, the higher the ward number you get, the sicker you are. Wards 7, 8, 9, and 10 are reserved for people in their last day or hours.

When we opened the door we were hit in the face with the most overpowering, vicious, nauseous smell I have ever encountered in my life. It was like being back on the Kali river that boarders Nepal and India where the Hindu’s set their dead relatives down the river on a funeral pyre and the bits of the body which don’t burn and get washed up on the river banks smell the same. It is dead meaty flesh. Either it is dead, dying or just rotting. I almost gagged but she was watching us as we walked in so had to remain composed. This was no problem for Patrick but I was struggling. Patrick pulled back the bed clothes and I nearly got knocked off my feet. I was standing next to the window which I opened very quickly and put my head out on the pretext of wanting to look at something outside the window even though to any normal thinking person this was a singularly inappropriate time to be gazing at the local wildlife. I then gave her a sponge bath. Like a lot of people with full blown AIDS, it can be very hard to tell their age but this women had quite a lot of grey hair and so I presumed she was between 50 and 65.

Bed sores are a huge problem here. If a person gets ill at home quite often they will be left in bed without them ever being moved around in bed, and so they develop bed sores. This lady was about five foot three and weighed about 40-50 lbs. There quite simply was nothing there. Loose skin draped over shrunken bones. Hollowed out cheeks, breasts like deflated balloons with shrivelled dried up nipples. Her stomach was very dry and the skin was peeling off. She had two bed sores, one on her coccyx which was red and livid with a large brown area of rotting flesh in the middle.

One of the nurses called Dorothy was very skilled at cutting this dead skin off and then dressing the wound, but the sister who was on duty with me did not feel confident enough to carry out this procedure. I don’t blame her. The brown flesh was groaning with pus and small amounts of blood, and as I put my hand on it, it was like putting your hand onto a hot plate, the pain this women was living with I just can’t imagine. With the dressing off I applied some disinfectant, covered it with gauze and taped it up.

Then there was a gauze patch which blood and greeny yellowy pus had leaked through on her left buttock. Patrick removed this ready to clean out the wound and re dress it. At this point I could no longer stand the smell. This is the only time in my life I have walked out on a patient, from war hospitals, to highly invasive ear surgery in Nepal to lepers in India with feet having been eaten away by gangrene; I have always been able to cope, but not this time. I felt so embarrassed but I would have thrown up had I stayed. I apologised to Patrick who was extremely gracious and he carried on like he was putting on a band aid on a cut finger. Every patient after this is going to be a walk in the park.

In the afternoon I did a wine run. With my newly acquired backpack from Heathrow airport I set off for the nearby town of Mandeni. I use the term town quite loosely. It comprises of a huge factory called Sappi which spews out noxious, sulphurous smoke 24 hours a day, which makes paper and employs virtually the entire town, with nearly 5000 employees it really IS the town. There is a Spar supermarket, an internet cafe, a chemist shop and an optician and that is Mandeni. As I walked along the road in a very pleasant 80 Degrees I realised how safe our houses are at home. Here every house is surrounded by barbed wire, inside the fence is always one or two ferocious looking dogs and on every house, wall or fence there is a sign telling the passer by that this house is protected by an armed response unit who is heavily armed and will shoot if necessary.

I quickened my pace even though before I left the hospice I had taken my watch off, left my camera behind and had only taken enough cash to cover what I was going to buy, which was a first!.

I went to the supermarket and brought packets and packets of crayons for the children as theirs were no more than little stumps of crayon and lots of colouring paper. One pint of milk for Lillian’s breakfast weetabix, and two birthday cards for Fathers birthday which is on Saturday

Then off to the wine shop, 3 magnums of a rather classy looking white wine called Four Seasons, which at 29 Rands (£2.60) you cant go to far wrong. We had brought it before and chilled it to 3 degrees above freezing and it was delicious. 3 Bottles of red also to be chilled to the same temperature was also very welcoming in the evening as Lillian and I sit down like an old married couple to watch the news followed by very old episodes of American comedies. In fact Clare said we were just like a married couple, we bickered a lot, watched TV. in the evening and never had sex.

As I set off on my journey back through the lawless streets of Mandeni a huge pickup truck with a white driver pulled up and said was I going to the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard hospice. (I was wearing my uniform) and if so would I like a lift. Sure I said and the blacked out windows of the back door opened and two huge black men were sitting in the back. As the back door opened an enormous hand reached out and got hold of my backpack and pulled it into the car. It was now too late to back out of this, so like a lamb to the slaughter I meekly followed my wine into the back of the car. Torn between losing my wine or my life, the wine won.

They turned out to be charming and the driver had just come back from England 2 days before where he had been working as an electrical engineer. He was actually doing a job at the hospice and so my lift was door to door. This saved me a good walk with a heavy backpack which was lucky because my back is pretty much in pain most of the time now. It is bending over the beds which kills me, but here pain is relative. I can walk home. I have used up all my Tylex and now Sister has given me some pain killers which seem to keep me on my feet for the time being.

Friday 1st July

6.45am. Nurses conference.  Two people had died during the night. Both I had got to know a little, bit but luckily had not got too attached to.  Today I was to be working in the children’s ward. I went down to Ward 4 where the four children are and was approached by two new carers who asked ME  what to do. Heck! Two weeks into this job and I now was in charge of a children’s ward with four very sick children.  We got all the children up and into church and then after church sat outside on the terrace and played with them until 11.00am.  Then Sister Sheilagh asked me to go out with her and do an assessment.

Great, a chance to see more of this magnificent wilderness.  I jumped into the front of the ambulance and Patrick, our Zulu speaking carer, got into the back.  We were going to pick someone up near the children’s crèche, who would direct us to the woman who a neighbour thought was not looking very well.  We got hideously lost but I was thrilled because it meant I saw much more of the countryside.

Eventually, an hour later, we arrived at a convenience store, picked up a young man, who directed us down a dirt track which not in your wildest imagination could be described as a road.  We eventually arrived at this little mud hut shack which had one of the most breath taking views you can imagine.  It was up a hill and the grassland was spread out down below towards the sea, like a lush, green blanket.  At the end the sand, which went down to the sea, was a bright yellow shimmering glass desert.  The sea was very rough, with waves breaking miles out to sea.  This was indeed a million dollar view with a 1000 rand (£80.00) hut on it.  Sister Sheilagh did her assessment and decided that the woman we were seeing needed to come back to the hospice.  We put her on a stretcher and into the back of the ambulance and headed for home. 

In my life I have only had one near death experience and I was just about to have my second.  We were driving down a very straight road in good condition, and with 100% visibility.  Coming in the other direction was a tractor and trailer and a large old 50 seater bus behind it.  As we approached each other, at a closing speed of about 100mph the bus pulled out to overtake the tractor – it must have been about 50 metres away and at a combined speed of 100 mph I reckoned I had between one and two seconds to live.  As it pulled out the driver must suddenly have seen us, and as quickly as he pulled out, he pulled back in again.  This was not before my mouth had filled with a very bitter tasting bile, not sick, just fear bile.  I screamed FUCK at the top of my voice and that jolted Sister Sheilagh into action woman.  She wrenched the wheel to the left whilst at the same time hitting the brakes.  We skidded to the side of the road and into a ditch.  As we sat there all I could think of was ‘I wonder who would have gone to my funeral’.  I really thought I was going to die.  The bus hit the tractor and trailer which ended up in the ditch on the other side of the road and the bus didn’t even stop.  No one was hurt, just very shaken up.  Sister Sheilagh was very cool about it.  I owe her a beer, as the Australians would say.

Sat 2nd July

Father’s gift from six friends had been to club together and get him a helicopter ride from Durban up the coast to photograph the hospice from the air.  All the staff and I stood outside on the courtyard and formed a Maltese cross.  He did three flybys like that and then we all rushed into the hospice, got the patients out onto the terrace and then did three more flybys and then he headed back to Virginia, a small private airport 5 kms north of Durban.

The rest of us got into the minibus and headed off to Durban to meet up for lunch.    Then we went to the most amazing aquarium I have ever been to in my life.  It puts the Sydney Aquarium into the shade.  It looked like a wrecked cargo ship ( in fact made out of fibre glass) and as you walked through it there were enormous tanks of every conceivable fish you can imagine, from sharks to seahorses and everything in-between.  Back here for dinner and Father’s mood remained unchanged.

Sunday 3rd July

My birthday.  I was woken up by Lillian saying ‘breakfast is ready’. An apple and a cup of Sainsbury’s finest builder’s tea.  When I came out of my room, there on the small coffee table was my cup of tea, an apple and a present all wrapped up in gold wrapping paper.  I hadn’t told anyone it was my birthday and I don’t know how she found out.  Then upstairs to the children ward to pick up the children and take them down to Mass.

Halfway through Mass Father said ‘we would really like to wish Piers Birtwistle a wonderful birthday and how kind it was of me to be spending my holidays helping him’.  How did he know it was my birthday?  Then two minutes later he was reading out the list of people who had died last night.  (Four)  One of them was my little friend Menzi, aged 3; who over the last two weeks I had become so fond of and spent so much time with.  He had an AIDS related illness which caused him to shed one entire layer of skin all over his body every 24 hours.  I had spent half an hour in the morning and then half an hour in the evening, peeling off all the loose skin which was irritating him.  He was so brave, he never complained, although it must have been horrendous for him.  His entire scalp was peeling which then got caught up in the little black curls on his head.  His neck and ears were the worst.  I think he must have shed three layers of skin each 24 hours in those areas.  Then when he was lying naked in his little cot, surrounded by dead skin, I collected all the dead skin in a dustpan and set about covering him in baby oil.  He loved massages.  I did his head for 15 minutes which was his favourite.  He would just lie there smiling, very quietly, free from scratching, temporarily – a brief respite from a miserable three year life.  Then I would do his tummy, arms, legs and back until he glistened.  How he loved his massages.

Because of his condition and ascetically he wasn’t as pretty as others – he sometimes got overlooked.  For some reason I have always been attracted to that oversight.  It hit me like a blow to the solar plexus when Father announced his death.  I didn’t cry, I just felt numb.  This really was the first person I had got to know well who had died and tragically it was a child.  I knew it had to happen but that still doesn’t stop the terrible upset.

In one way it was an awful way to start my birthday, but on the other hand it was a wonderful way.  Menzi's life on this earth and not a fun one for him.  His mother had abandoned him at the hospice and had not been to see him for over a year.  Mercifully God took him before his suffering got much worse.  Last night he started his journey to heaven to start a new life of peace, love and tranquillity.  He is a happy boy today – no more scratching, laboured breathing, bloated skin, fluid retention or bleeding – just peace.  Maybe this was the best birthday present I could have be given.  God bless him and may his tiny soul rest in peace, and may he fly with the angels and soar with eagles, I will really miss him, my little special, beautiful, brave, inspiring Menzi. 

After mass we all drove off to have some lunch in Ballito at a fish restaurant called John Dory – had a delicious lunch even though we sat down at 11.30am.  Then off down the coast road towards Durban on a mystery tour.  We ended up at a huge new casino where Father, as a surprise for my birthday, had got tickets for a show called African Footprints.  It was one of the most energetic, foot stomping, exciting, magical shows I have seen on the stage anywhere in the world for many years.  They have two troops going round the world and we were lucky enough to be in Durban when, allegedly the better of the two, was on.  Then off to an enormous, American style mall, called Gateway, an enormous birthday cake and the third rendition of Happy Birthday in the middle of the Mall – very kind, but quite embarrassing.

Monday 4th July

Today I am in the children’s home.  I spent the morning playing with the children and in the afternoon I went back out on the road to do an assessment with Sister Sheilagh and we bought in a very thin, frail old man.  My back was in terrible pain.  Sister Sheilagh has got me well drugged up so the pain is being managed.  Father Severin has been told that because of his diabetes and other heart problems he is going to be a permanent resident at the hospice with the job of Resident Chaplin. I think he was very happy with this arrangement as he was no longer able to run his own parish which he had been doing up until very recently. 

Tuesday 5th July

Two more people died last night.  Back in the children’s home for the early shift.  Out in the playground where the children have found a gorse bush which all the children have invented a fun game to prick their fingers with the thorns to prove how brave they are.  With these children this game takes on a new meaning.  They rush up to me with their fingers outstretched, with tiny drops of blood on them and thrust them into my face to show me who is the bravest.  I don’t know which child was the bravest, but I was certainly the most cowardly and found myself telling them that it was a very silly game and deciding to kick a football around with some other children a short distance away.

Then, in the afternoon, myself and Sister Sheilagh took Father Severin to Mtunzini to see a doctor who Sheilagh used to work for to get a second opinion on his legs and feet which had swollen up and were becoming ulcerous, bloody and bloated and he was in the great deal of pain.

The fear of car-jacking is ever present here – the violence in this area was bought home to us when we found out that the doctor had a new secretary – when asked what happened to the old one we were told that on the weekend, she was visiting friends in Stanger (about 15 miles away) and she had got caught up the crossfire of a mafia style shoot out over taxi turfs and had been shot 49 times.  She survived until she got to the hospital where she sadly died.

The road to Mtunzini cut through the fields of sugar cane, swaying in the winter winds.  On the side of the road there were the most beautiful trees called Snake Lily’s with coral orange flowers with the brightness of a Day-Glo marker.  The drier the soil the more intense the colour.  There is no greenery on the trees, just what looks like a dead tree with hundreds of the bright and piercing coloured flowers, lighting up the otherwise colourless fields.  Father and his two Bavarian friends have gone out to a game reserve at St Lucia in the north (about three and a half hours drive) for two days which has resulted in a holiday like atmosphere at the hospice.  Lillian very kindly takes Susie, Clare and myself out to a delicious restaurant where we feast outside on a large elevated, wooden terrace by the sea.  Dining outside in the middle of winter – marvellous. 

The next three days I spent in and out of bed suffering from what has turned out to be Tick fever or as its also known as Lyme fever. It has symptoms very similar to Malaria. Hot sweats and terrible cold shivers. Not something I would recommend. Thanks to two days in St. Georges hospital in Tooting on my return, being prodded and quite literally pints of blood being extracted from me along with every other specimen one can produce they found out what I was suffering from, I am now on antibiotics and hopefully that will be the end of it .Anyway, I hope you can all see that your money has been spent wisely. After all your incredibly kind and generous donations, I ended up taking a cheque down to Father Gérard for £25.000.00, so thank you, thank you, thank you all so very very much.

The hospice was set up and built by Father 13 years ago and he has been adding onto it ever since. It costs £320.000.00 a year to run the hospice and this is what Father Gérard spends about 3 months a year going round the world giving lectures and raising money to keep the hospice going.

To put this amount into perspective, a four bedroom house next door to the centre was for sale for £22.500.00. God bless you all. I thank you all, as I am sure would all the people I have helped looked after if they could. You have helped make their final days comfortable and dignified. What a wonderful thing you have done.

All Love


Blessed Gérard's Hospice is the hospice at the hotspot of the AIDS pandemic in South Africa where 88% of tested people are HIV-positive! Blessed Gérard's Care Centre combines five out of twelve charitable projects, which the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard, the Relief Organisation of the Order of Malta in South Africa, runs there.

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, 15 January 2013 12:50:12