Thokozani Shadrack Majaha Maphalala
Programme Director SOS Children's Villages in Eswatini
photo: © Stefan Lechner Photography
Maturing over death
Once upon a time, when I had only been with SOS Children’s Villages for a year, there was a moment where I needed to mature and face the death of someone who was very close to my heart. Teddy was a 9-year-old girl who was very reserved and kept to herself most of the time. She was supported by SOS Children’s Villages through the Scholarship programme, which was before the introduction of Family Strengthening. She lived in the community close to the SOS Children’s Village.
Teddy had poor health due to a chronic illness. This made her skip classes at times, as she would sometimes be very ill. However, she was a very clever and smart girl who, in spite of missing classes, would still pass her class tests as if she had not missed any lessons. Her mother had died from the same illness and she was left with her grandmother and her two elder sisters.
One day Teddy became very ill and she was taken to hospital where she was admitted for treatment. Her elder sister stayed with her in the hospital and was supporting her, because children are allowed to have someone to help them during their stay in hospital. However, the elder sister struggled with Teddy, because sometimes she would not want to listen to her, like when it was time for Teddy to take her medication she would refuse. They fought like most siblings do when the smaller one is given something to do. This further complicated Teddy’s medical condition and her health deteriorated.
When I came to check on her I was told by her sister, Sarah, that Teddy was giving her a hard time, as she was refusing to take medication. When I looked at her, she had an angry face. I greeted her. She didn’t respond, trying to frown at me, but she failed as she melted into a smile. We had developed a very good relationship even before she was very ill, so that I would sometimes visit her at her grandmother’s place.
I talked to her about taking her medication and she told me, “I am not interested and I want to die. Sarah, please give us privacy I need to speak to uncle alone.” She then told me that her mother had died from the same illness that she had, and that was what her mother had told her. The mother had also told her that she might not die, because doctors were working on getting the right medication. She said, “I know I am going to die anyway,” so for her it was useless to take the medication. I managed to convince her to take the medication and she finally did.
Trust comes in small steps
As I was going home I was deeply touched by our conversation and how brave she was to talk to me about something that she said she had never told anyone before. This made me appreciate her even more, for the trust she showed in me.
At some point, she got weaker and I kept on remembering our discussion. This time she could not even manage to get out of her hospital bed, so she could not go to the toilet and was given nappies to use. This made her very angry and now she did not want anyone next to her because she felt ashamed and was using aggression as a defence. When I came, she had chased her sister away but the nurses explained the situation to me. When she saw me, she faced the other way and told me, “Please leave me alone.”
I sat next to her and talked to her, even though she was not talking back. I kept at it for some time and then I asked her if she would be happy if I went away and never came back to check on her. She then turned towards me and said, “NO”, with emphasis, and I could see her face melting into a smile again. I asked her if she wanted any assistance at the time and she said, “Yes, please get me the nappies, I am dirty now.” I asked her if she would be comfortable with me cleaning her up and she said she was okay with it. I cleaned her up and she was very happy and we stayed together for a while. Then I left her with her sister.
A few days down the line, she got even weaker and the nurses put her on oxygen, as she was now struggling to breathe. The hospital called me from the office to come quickly, as Teddy needed to see me. When I got there, they told me that she had been calling for me since morning. I went to her and the smile was not there anymore. All I could see was that she was now in severe pain. She stretched her right hand towards me and in a low voice asked me to hold her hand. I did so and I could tell that this was a really bad time for her.
When I asked where her sister was, I was told that Teddy had asked her to go to town and get her some Kentucky Fried Chicken, as she was craving it. I held her hand and prayed silently that she would not die in my hands. She struggled more to breathe. I called the nurses. The nurse came and she told me that Teddy was dying and I could not let go of her hand until her last breath, and I closed her eyes. I felt a few drops of tears run down my cheeks and quickly tried to stop crying.
Taking on responsibility and supporting where we can
At that moment, I had to be brave and mature very quickly. I also thought about the sister who had gone to town. The sister came back from town with the goodies. I took her to a counselling room in the hospital and told her what had happened. She was very hysterical, as she said this had been her greatest fear. I supported her and she calmed down after a while, and we made telephone calls to the closest mortuaries to store her sister’s body. I took her to her grandmother’s home. I then informed everyone of what had happened and this was a very sad moment.
This was my first experience and I managed to stay strong and support my clients through the difficult times, starting with Teddy until her death, supporting the family. I felt I needed to be strong for Teddy’s sake, as she had shown me a lot of trust – we had shared information that she had not shared with her family. It was very rewarding for me to support and care for her until her last breath. It was more than what a salary gives me. I felt I had done the right thing in relating to her the way I did even though, when it all started, I had no idea that it would take the direction it did.
Although Teddy passed on, the fact that she felt loved and cared for and that I was someone she could trust, was a big lesson for me. For colleagues I wish that everyone could build a relationship with at least one child that will make an impact in the child’s life. I felt I had to go all out to provide care and support, even when faced with my greatest fear.
Thokozani Shadrack Majaha Maphalala
Thokozani joined SOS Children’s Villages at a time when he was younger and full of energy. The work with children has made him want to try new and challenging roles. He has since learned to settle in different positions and different environments without fearing the change. The most interesting part for Thokozani was seeing the first children he met when he joined the organisation and how they have made their own successes in the outside world.
As an African man, Thokozani has a strong attachment to his immediate and extended family. He now has a family of his own, with four wonderful children. They are his strength and his reason to face each day as it comes, no matter how difficult it may be.
In his free time, Thokozani enjoys telling his children stories from his childhood. He also supports and provides counselling to other individuals who need that service, for the mere satisfaction of helping other people. Thokozani lives in the Kingdom of Eswatini, which is a small landlocked country with beautiful scenery, green vegetation, good nature reserves and various wild animals.