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Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust

July 18, 2009
Little Travellers created by Hillcrest beadworkers

Little Travellers created by Hillcrest beadworkers

Yesterday I visited Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust, on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa. The organization has been caring for people living with HIV and AIDS in the impoverished areas surrounding Hillcrest for the last 17 years. Based in the wealthy suburb of Hillcrest, the Centre is able to generate a sustainable source of income through sales of beadwork and other handicrafts, as well as through selling plants at their nursery and sales of second-hand clothing. The Stephen Lewis Foundation has been funding Hillcrest’s incredible work for the last five years – most recently, our support has included salaries for nursing staff and providing stipends for caregivers at the Respite Unit and in rural communities.

I met with Hillcrest staff to discuss Stephen’s upcoming visit and then spent some time meeting with Hillcrest’s beadworkers and with nurses and volunteers at the Respite Unit. We’ll be returning to Hillcrest later in the week to film feature stories of some of the inspiring women involved with the Centre.

Respite Unit
Hillcrest’s Respite Unit opened in February 2006 to “provide a home away from home for those patients who do not have a primary caregiver at home, who are bedridden, and for symptom control.” The centre began with just six beds, but today the ward has 24 spaces for HIV-positive clients. The Respite Unit is a bustling hub of activity, with fourteen permanent caregivers on the ward, and a large network of home-based caregivers who refer clients from their communities. Four registered nurses see an average of 70–100 clients a month through home visits and some 250 clients a month at the Centre. They assess clients’ health status, supervise home-based care workers and provide medication, counselling and testing to HIV-positive clients.

I arrived at the respite unit just in time for a birthday party – Siyabonga, a boy who was recently admitted to the centre, was turning 15. The staff sang and handed out pieces of chocolate cake. Sadly, Siyabonga wasn’t able to partake in the cake – at the moment he is drastically underweight and barely able to eat. Apparently the respite unit doesn’t often take children into their care, but he was an exception to the rule. Everyone is hoping for a miraculous recovery.

But even though there are often miraculous moments at Hillcrest – stories of people being nursed back to health after having CD4 counts of only 3 or 4 – there are difficult moments as well. Last week, three patients died in a single night – a particularly devastating loss for the unit, which treats everyone as though they were part of the family. As I stood talking with one of the nurses on the ward, another patient passed away. The caregivers pulled the curtains around each of the beds, and gently moved the person’s body to the small chapel outside the ward.

I spoke with a few volunteers as the on-duty ward coordinators (Sphe and Gugu) and nurses (Mary Ann, Mette and Cwengi) tended to the patients. They explained that everyone who works at Hillcrest is trained to treat patients as though they were being cared for in their homes. Everyone receives loving attention and a personal touch. In fact, it’s a policy that all caregivers at Hillcrest must first spend two days and one night on the ward so that they can understand what it’s like to be a patient. It’s a really remarkable place.

On Sunday, we’re going to visit the home of Maria, an elderly gogo who lives in Molweni, a village in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. I had the pleasure of meeting with her at the Centre and am very much looking forward to seeing her and her grandson at her home. More to come.

– By Gillian Mathurin, SLF Communications Officer

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolyn Nixon permalink
    July 21, 2009 5:43 PM

    Hello Gillian!

    How wonderful to see your write-ups about Hillcrest. That is my favourite place in the whole world and those are my favourite people. I spend my winters there helping Cwengi and the rest of the staff with the gogos and the orphans in the Valley of 1000 Hills.
    Please give hugs to all of the Hillcrest staff, all of the gogos (have you met Thalekele yet? .. the wonderful beader and leader in Lower Molweni?) and all of your traveling companions.
    Hooray for the fabulous contributions you are all making.
    Very best wishes from Carolyn Nixon

    • July 28, 2009 5:17 AM

      Very warm greetings and a big hug from all of us at the AIDS Centre. We had such a lovely time with our special vistors. You were dearly missed and we are all looking forward to your next visit

  2. July 23, 2009 1:18 PM

    It’s exciting to read about Stephen’s visit to the HIllcrest AIDS Centre. I was there in May and bought a lot of their beaded necklaces and little Travellers for sale. It’s great to see you here Carolyn, as the women at Woza Moya told me to try and get in touch with you! I grew up in Durban and Valley of 1000 Hills is special place where I used to stop and buy beads from the bead workers 40 years ago.

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