South Africa: Helping to Heal, Providing Hope

05 December 2018|Sarah Carroll, JRS/USA Director of Communications

Carl Chagweda, JRS Community Health Worker, helps Melinda to pull herself up on a walker - part of the exercises they perform together weekly to build Melinda's strength. (Sarah Carroll/Jesuit Refugee Service)

Carl and Fartune walked into the room and Molline lit up. She was thrilled to have both JRS community health workers back in her apartment. “I prefer they stay with me the whole time,” Molline said.

Molline and her sister Melinda arrived in Johannesburg over two years ago. Since that time, Molline has been taking care of Melinda who is suffering from paralysis and complications from HIV. The constant care and lack of medical resources have made their transition as asylum seekers from Zimbabwe feel impossible. The two sisters and Molline’s husband live in a one-room apartment up a flight of unstable stairs. Molline had spent much of her time taking care of her sister, carrying her on her back up and down the stairs. Though both women had worked in their former lives, the burden of disease left them with no time or emotional energy to find a job or the ability to make a new life in a new place. This is where JRS found them.

JRS was able to identify Molline and Melinda as in need of assistance and provided community health workers Carl and Fartune. Carl and Fartune visit Molline and Melinda a few times a week. They perform physical therapy and massage to help Melinda to regain feeling and control of her legs and to relieve pain. But, the assistance that Carl and Fartune give is beyond just physical therapy and basic medical assistance. They help Molline to clean, to ensure that there aren’t further bacterial infections and to cook, so that Melinda has the nutrition she needs to heal. They also connect the family to other needed services and medical assistance.

In the few months that Carl and Fartune have been working with Melinda, there have seen miraculous results. Melinda, who was previously barely sitting up, can now stand on a walker and hopes to be able to use it to walk soon.

With support from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration (PRM), Carl, Fartune, and a team of other community health workers work throughout the city of Johannesburg providing counselling, awareness raising workshops, and support groups to help sick and terminally ill refugees and asylum seekers. Urban refugees and migrants in South Africa face a range of obstacles with integration, particularly those struggling with illness and disease. JRS’s community health project is working to help those refugees and asylum seekers to remove at least the obstacle of health management.

“I didn’t have hope,” (referring to the time before Carl and Fartune came into her life) “but now, I have hope.”

Carl, who migrated to South Africa from Zimbabwe, and Fartune, who was born in Somalia and is a trained nurse, work in the Mayfair neighborhood and use their skills, language, love, and cultural understandings to travel throughout the neighborhood. They clean wounds, check in on infirmed patients, help caregivers find the right resources, and ensure that their clients have access to further medical care. Their dedication to their patients and the love and accompaniment they provide has already made a significant impact on the lives they’ve touched.

“I didn’t have hope,” Molline said referring to the time before Carl and Fartune came into her life, “but now, I have hope.