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The two hearts of the Sophumelela Centre

Compassionate pair combine efforts to better lives of people living with HIV and Aids

Siyabulela Nana and Pamela Pitili, of the Sophumelela Centre in Dawn, help families from around East London affected by HIV and Aids.
Siyabulela Nana and Pamela Pitili, of the Sophumelela Centre in Dawn, help families from around East London affected by HIV and Aids.

Priest and community liaison Siyabulela Nana, 43, from Kidd's Beach and programme co-ordinator Pamela Pitili, 43, from Berea work to better the lives of families affected by HIV and Aids as part of the Sophumelela Centre in Dawn. 

Nana said: “We are both compassionate people with a deep sense of humanity and human dignity. That's what drives us.” 

The community-based Sophumelela Centre NPO assists 210 households affected by HIV on a yearly rotation from Scenery Park, Reeston, Duncan Village, Nompumelelo, and Newlife township near Chicken Farm.

Nana said: “We have 210 people in the forum, but we care for their families too. Our job goes beyond the individual person.

“The families need input from us. It's broader than what's on our register.

“The level of emotional demand on the person caring for the infected needs care too.” 

The Sophumelela Centre was established in 2004 with Nana joining in 2006 and Pitili in 2008. 

Nana and Pitili work with seven women healthcare workers who live in each area to provide support to the beneficiaries in their communities. 

“We work to provide assistance with their ARV (antiretroviral) treatments; we set up food gardens, provide homework assistance to school students, referrals for documentation and medication education,” Pitili said. 

“I run the whole programme”, said Pitili, who not only oversaw the administration and implementation but offered her time to train and educate the healthcare workers to provide the best service and training capacity for the households in their care.

“We watch the pill count —  we want to see if they are taking their ARVs properly.

“They also assist the elderly with hygiene and offer treatment education.” 

“Coming from a broken family, in some way you want to give where you can.

“We've all been there, it's a level of compassion, it's not just about the clientele.

“Siya and I saw a woman in our church and reached out with food parcels.” 

Nana said: “She was an unemployed single mother. We are given 50 food parcel donations from the Lotto and we stretch that to include the 210 families, but we saw her circumstances were dire.

“We had just finished dropping off food parcels in Duncan Village where she lived and we couldn't reach her, as we were heading home Pam got a call.

“We looked at each other and thought, what can we do?” 

The pair dropped off much-needed supplies for the mother, her toddler, and her seven-year-old child. 

“It's so moving,” Nana said. 

Food parcels are donated once a month and dropped off by Nana and Pitili in their own vehicles. 

“The households, 90% of them are child supported households — they depend of social grants as their income and 10% are granny-run households. 

Community liaison Nana said he was the “face” of the organisation, in charge of sourcing donors, communicating the needs of the programme, and collecting supplies for each initiative. 

“We have three community gardens and five family gardens; we provide seedlings and try to generate healthy competition and pride, encouraging ownership of theses gardens and the initiation and sustainability of the gardens.” 

Pitili said the biggest struggle was linked to healthcare facilities. 

“We have a constant struggle with clinics —  we don't provide direct care, so we see some clients getting turned down, or they can't get medication because their local clinic closed down so they have to take taxis to faraway facilities.” 

“We still have a long way to go with HIV stigma.” 

Receptionist and healthcare worker Khonziwe Ngwendu, 42, from Duncan Village said she worked at reception for three days and spent the rest of the week as a healthcare worker.

“We visit the communities. I go to Duncan Village; we focus on those who are HIV positive and advise on how to take their medication.” 

Ngwedu said most were patients of the Gompo clinic A or Duncan Village Day Hospital. 

“Pam is a humble person, she's easy to talk to and she helps you when you are struggling.

“In whatever area, she does it for the good of the centre. She sacrifices herself and her time.

“Siya makes a personal connection and makes you feel comfortable talking. He is supportive and as a pastor gives spiritual input.”

Both Nana and Pitili said they were honoured to be nominated as Local Heroes under the Sophumelela banner. 

Nana said: “We do what we do for the communities, what we do is a reality.

“We are not attention seekers but for the reality we are in.”

Pitili said: “It's humbling. I've recently lost my husband, When you find yourself clouded with your own emotions it's a way to remember why you do what you do.” 





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