The Masoyi Home Based care organization began back in 1997 when two women, Dr. Maggie Hardman and Florence Mbokazi, realised that the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping the Bushbuckridge region of Mpumalanga was giving rise to unprecedented levels of human suffering, particularly among the children.
“Maggie, who was working at a government clinic in the area, and I realised that the people simply did not know what was happening, what was causing all these deaths. No one understood the concept of sexual transmission of viruses. There was no education, no antiretroviral medication available. The traditional healers were also clueless, prescribing outlandish remedies. Fear gripped the population,” explains Florence, now Masoyi’s executive director.
In the space of a few years, a new social phenomenon arose: thousands of orphans with no parents, many of them living in child-headed households, some with a grandmother, some without. “We had to do something for the children,” says Florence. “We could not build orphanages, so we went out to them where they lived. At the same time, we helped the AIDS sufferers in their homes, nursing them, helping them take their meds, feeding them, consoling them in their grief when someone died. That’s how Masoyi Home Based Care started, with just six volunteers.”
In the early days, funding was a big challenge. Local churches donated food parcels, then corporate funding came in at low levels. In 2003, the Starfish Greathearts Foundation entered the picture. “Starfish made a big difference. Initially, they provided substantial quantities of food, blankets, and clothing. Now they fund five of our care-workers. They are brilliant partners,” says Florence.
Seventeen years later, things have changed, some for the better, others not. ARV’s have made the treatment of HIV disease manageable; education about safe sex has reduced transmission levels. Because of this, the South African public largely believes that the HIV epidemic has “passed,” that it is no longer a priority. That is most definitely not the case. “We are left with huge social problems,” explains Florence. “Do not for one moment think that we are over the epidemic. Things have changed, for sure, but we are left with massive social challenges, particularly amongst the children.”
Funding remains a problem. “International donor funding is reducing because there are new challenges out there. Locally, many corporates believe that HIV/AIDS is no longer a priority. This is a terrible mistake,” explains Florence.
Notwithstanding all these financial difficulties, Masoyi HBC, under the leadership of Florence and her partners, is now a substantial organization with three key activities: Home Based Care, Orphans and Vulnerable Children and Early Childhood Development.
The HBC group continues to work with people of all ages in their homes. Very sick people are transferred to clinics; families are helped with food, clothing and basic medical care, much of it palliative.
The OVC group, overseen by Jabulile Themba, employs twenty-two trained care-workers, all of whom receive a small stipend. “Each care-worker looks after at least 32 children, from birth until they reach eighteen” explains Jabulile. “But, in reality, they all take care of more. In total, we have well over seven hundred children in our care.”
They receive school uniforms, a meal after school each day and assisted homework sessions in addition to special care dictated by their individual home situations. “These are the most desperate children in our community, “says Jabulile. “Thousands of children need help but these are the most needy. They do not have adults in their homes, at best a granny here or there. They are at risk of illness and physical and sexual abuse. We have five satellite centres in the region with care-workers spread all around. We also partner with youth skills development centres providing training in skills such as sewing and woodwork, plus computer training and even music.”
More recently, Masoyi HBC realised that there are numerous creches, run mostly by untrained grannies, that care for hundreds of young children on a daily basis. “We help improve the care that these crèche owners give the children by training them on aspects of early childhood development, crucial to the long-term intellectual and physical development of the children. That means we are spreading our net far beyond just the kids in our OVC programme,” says Florence.
What is the real challenge now facing these communities that are allegedly “over” the HIV/AIDS epidemic? “It is the issue of child-headed households, for sure. This is the devastating legacy of the epidemic. Thousands of children without parent role-models, without money, shouldering responsibilities no child should have, caring for siblings, worrying about security and at the same time trying to go to school. I believe we have a new human tragedy in South Africa. There are organizations like ours trying to stem the tide, but funding remains a barrier to progress,” concludes Florence.