The annual newsletter of the British Association of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta


My stay at Blessed Gérard's Care Hospice

BASMOM's Vice President travelled to South Africa on a Pilgrimage of her own

BEAUTIFUL COUNTRYSIDE and glorious sunny weather greeted me on my first visit to Blessed Gerard's Care Hospice 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 Fr Gerard, who sadly was not there as he was fundraising for the hospice in Germany. I was very soon able to interact with the staff, patients and children, a very rewarding and humbling experience.

But very dark clouds are descending on Africa and this area of Zululand in particular, as an epidemic of AIDS is threatening to wipe out a whole generation of young people, ages ranging from thirty downwards. Over the last 10 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. Many of the Zulu people have no homes, food or money, and there is 83% unemployment. Also, the traditional values of Zulu culture are being eroded by Western influences - promiscuity from both inside and outside the family is the cause of this epidemic.

The Hospice, which is 10 years old, is on three floors and includes a beautiful chapel, offices and visitors' quarters. It is administered by Fr Gerard, Clare Kalkwarf and a small group of dedicated people. They rely on donations to keep it going. For example, just as the hospice was completed they received a very welcome gift of 40 beds from a donor in America. There is also accommodation for 20 children, with good and safe access to play areas. Many of them are HIV positive and will probably only survive to the age of 10. The children go to school and live as normal a life as possible within the confines of the Hospice. Most are orphans and will remain there, but some go home if their families can provide for them.

The Hospice, which can accommodate 40 AIDS patients, is run by a totally dedicated team, including Fr Gerard, Clare, a doctor, nurses and helpers, many of whom are volunteers. Volunteers from overseas also spend time there helping with the patients: Lillian Molloy from Newcastle Upon Tyne, gives up a month of her holidays every year to teach first aid to the Zulus to enable them to work in the hospice. She is doing valuable work.

Clare is the most dynamic of people, dedicating her life in recent years to the care of the patients and children. Also her respect for, and encouragement of, 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, Catholic or not.

During my stay, I accompanied a nurse on two assessment visits some miles away in a very poor area. On both occasions we returned with a patient requiring treatment. One was a baby girl of about six months whose mother was in hospital and whose father was unable to feed her as he had no money. She was severely malnourished, having been fed only on 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, among others, has given and pledged money for the continuation of the work of the Brotherhood, for which they are most grateful. We are all remembered in their daily prayers.

My final thoughts on these memorable days are that this vital and important work must continue, to help relieve some of the terrible suffering and pain of these poor people dying of AIDS, and to help educate them, as Clare and her team are doing. As she says, if the Brotherhood can save one life, all the hard work is worth it. The work these wonderfully dedicated people are carrying out for the Zulus who live in this very sad country is magnificent. Please remember them in your prayers.

For more information, the Brotherhood's website address is:

Patricia Talbot

The Hospitaller ˇ December 2004 ˇ page 3

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