South Africa: Homebased Care – The Experiences of the Patients Tell the Tale
14 October 2015

JRS’s two professional homebased caregivers, Marcelline Sangara and Janine Kukasheta with Florence, a 77 year old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, living with Pancreatic Cancer. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)
Today, three months later, Tesfaye weighs a solid 57 kilograms and despite a severe stroke having left him with a limp on one of his legs, he feels strong and optimistic. “No, I will walk, the more I move the stronger my leg becomes. I feel strong and alive.”

Johannesburg, 14 October 2015 - Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has recognised the fact that refugees and asylum seekers, like all other people grow old, some live with dire life-threatening terminal illnesses but one thing remains true, like all other human beings, they are entitled to quality healthcare. That is why JRS’s two professional homebased caregivers, Marcelline Sangara and Janine Kukasheta, dedicate their days to seeing to the most essential medical and basic needs of those that can no longer look after themselves.

The chronicles of those they assist are moving, not only telling a tale of clinical and medical conditions, but all too often it tells of the brutality they escaped, the tragedy of the discrimination they face at healthcare institutions and the pain of that accompanies their daily lives.

Mamma Yvette is living testimony to the hardships refugees face; now, in South Africa where she found refuge, as well as her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  The mere thought and memory of what brought her to Johannesburg, drives her to tears. As she tells her story, torrents of tears roll down her cheeks. She has been in South Africa since 2007 and even here in Johannesburg she has seen nothing but misery.

She was four months pregnant when rebels arrived at her home one night, enquiring about the whereabouts of her husband, she did not know where he was. Instead they turned their rage toward her by beating her, raping her and her eldest daughter. The torture she endured was so severe that she lost the baby she was pregnant with. Her neighbours found her broken and burnt body and took her to receive medical treatment.

Her physical scars are visible, but the psychological and emotional trauma she endured has left deep lesions that may never heal. Marcelline and Janine help her manage chronic hypertension, diabetes and she is suffering kidney failure as well. Multiple surgical operations later, she now occupies a tiny shop that she resides at and operates a humble business from.

JRS assists her, her three children and two other family members with food. However, her future remains uncertain and she fears that she may have to return to the streets as she had to a little over a year ago as she can barely afford to pay the R 1500 a month rent for the small shop. The shopfront has no windows, Mamma Yvette breaks down again as she recalls how the windows were smashed as a crowd hurled abuse at her and her terrified children during the xenophobic violent attacks. Now, a few boxes and panels of chipboard fail to keep the weather out.

At the age of 77 Florence (Not her real name), has undergone four major surgeries including a major heart operation. She now lives by herself in Yeoville, renting a room, each day an excruciating ordeal as Pancreatic Cancer lays waste her body.

Her son was a soldier in the employ of Jean-Pierre Bemba, in the DRC. Upon Bemba’s arrest in Rwanda, the head of state in the DRC then decided that anyone linked to Bemba should be eliminated. Her husband had already been killed in 2003, when conflict initially erupted and now, they were hunting for her son. The family faced reprisal from the rest of the community, persistently under threat and facing discrimination, the family escaped. Today, Florence has no idea where any of her children are, whether they are still alive or what their fate has been in this world.

As all her children had made their escape, she was left to fend for herself until she came across a group of young people making their escape. She pleaded with them: “Please, my children are your age and I do not know where they are. Take an old women like me with you, so that I may find them.”

She writhes and grimaces in pain as she tells her tale, as the last of the four different surgical procedures she has had to endure left her without a Pancreas as Cancer has spread to other major organs. The Morphine Syrup she drinks once in the morning and once at night before she sleeps is her only temporary relief.

This is but a small sample of the people Marcelline and Janine care for. These refugees have escaped their homes in search of a place where their right to life is protected and respected, instead they have much rather found institutionalised xenophobia and continued suffering. Without the assistance of Marcelline and Janine, they would have no quality of life. Instead these two JRS crusaders ensure that medication is taken on time, that bedsheets are changed, clothes washed and that the patients are bathed. They spend their time in the office actively advocating, ensuring that the public health services treat refugees and asylum seekers with the necessary care.

Despite all the misery, there are success stories, stories that prove that the work Marcelline and Janine do, adds hope. Weighing 49.9 kilograms and in a critical condition Tesfaye Buhle Kewayo, an Ethiopian refugee was left for dead at the JRS Office in Johannesburg. Marcelline and Johan Viljoen, JRS South Africa Country Director, piled him into Johan’s car and took him to Nazareth House, a Catholic Hospice facility nearby. Today, three months later, Tesfaye weighs a solid 57 kilograms and despite a severe stroke having left him with a limp on one of his legs, he feels strong and optimistic. “No, I will walk, the more I move the stronger my leg becomes. I feel strong and alive.” he says. The work of the Homebased Care team is indeed invaluable!

Our previous story on Hombased Care,by Johan Viljoen.

Press Contact Information
Gushwell F. Brooks
+27 11 618 3404