My stay at Blessed Gérard’s Care Centre

by the Vice-President of the British Association of the Order of Malta Lady Patricia Talbot of Malahide

The beauty and glorious sunny weather greeted me on my first visit to South Africa. The purpose of my stay was to spend time at Blessed Gérard’s Care Centre and Children’s Home in the heart of Zululand at Mandeni. I received a very warm welcome from Clare Kalkwarf who runs the hospice with Father Gérard, who sadly was not there, as he was fund raising for the hospice in Germany. I was very soon able to interact with the staff, patients and children which I found a very rewarding and humbling experience.

Very dark clouds are descending on Africa and this area of Zululand in particular, with an epidemic of AIDS, which is threatening to wipe out a whole generation of young people who’s ages range from thirty years downwards. Already in the last ten years thousands of people have died, leaving many families with only grandparents and very young children many of whom are HIV positive. One grandmother was left with her young grandchildren and nine graves on her small plot. It is a devastatingly sad situation leaving many of the Zulu people with no home, food or money. 83 % are unemployed and worse is that the traditional values of their culture are being eroded by western influence and promiscuity, from both inside and outside the family, are causes of this epidemic spiralling out of control.

The hospice which is eight years old is administered by Father Gérard, Clare Kalkwarf and a few other dedicated people. It is on three floors and includes a beautiful chapel, offices and visitors quarters. They received a very welcome gift of forty beds from donors in America just as the hospice was completed.

There is also accommodation for about forty children on the top floor with good and safe access to play areas. Many of them are HIV positive and will probably only live to the age of ten. The children go to school, and they live as normal a life as possible within the confines of the hospice. Most are orphans and will remain there as long as necessary. Some do go home if the families can provide for them.

The hospice, which accommodates up to forty AIDS patients, is run by a totally dedicated team including Father Gérard, Clare, a doctor, nurses and helpers many of whom are voluntary. People from overseas also spend time there helping with the patients, one in particular is Lillian Molloy from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who gives up a month of her holidays each year to teach First Aid. She is doing valuable work.

Clare is the most dynamic of people who has dedicated her life in recent years to the care of the patients and children. Also her respect of and encouragement to all the staff must give them a great sense of purpose in what they are doing for the sick and dying. The hospice is run with all the Christian values and love it deserves. Mass is celebrated each morning and both staff and patients may attend, many of whom are not Catholics.

During my stay I accompanied a nurse on two assessment visits some miles away in a very poor rural area. On both occasions we returned with someone who required treatment. One was a baby girl of about six months who’s mother was in hospital and the father was unable to feed the baby as he had no money. She was severely malnourished having only received sugar water for three months. Already, while I was there, she was responding to an appropriate diet. Hopefully she will be able to return to her family.

The British Association of the Order of Malta among others have given and pledged money for the continuation of the work of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard which they are most grateful for. We are all remembered in their daily prayers.

My final thoughts of these memorable days are that it is really the most vital and important work that must go on to help relieve some of the terrible suffering and pain of these poor people who are dying of AIDS, also to help educate them as Clare and her team are doing and as she says, “if the Brotherhood can save one life, all the hard work is worth it.”

It is nothing short of a miracle what these wonderfully dedicated people are doing for the Zulu living in this very sad country. Please remember them all in your prayers.

This page is part of the Newsletter No. 24 of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, 15 January 2013 12:49:44