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We don't encourage people to come here to die, we try to bring them back to life

By unknown | Feb 20, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

The bark of an old tree dominates the reception area of Sparrow Rainbow Village.

Speckled with small brass sparrows that have names of people inscribed on them, the tree is a grim reminder to the staff of inmates who succumbed to HIV-Aids.

"We have since stopped the practice. Putting up a sparrow every time a person died just became too depressing," says Sparrow deputy chief executive Sister Rose Ledwaba.

The names of the dead span a 10-year period from the village's inception in 1992 to 2002.

It was a distressing period because of the large number that succumbed to the scourge, says Ledwaba.

This has changed dramatically because the longevity of those infected has increased.

"People were dying of Aids then. There were no antiretro-viral drugs and little was known about the disease," says Ledwaba.

She says some of the staff in the village are former patients.

"A few of our employees came here in adult nappies because they could not do anything for themselves. Some are now caregivers and others help with the maintenance of the village.

"We don't encourage people to come here to die. With our skills we try to bring them back to life," says Ledwaba.

Sparrow commemorated its 17th year of existence on February 14.

Founded by Reverend Corine McClintock in 1992, Sparrow has evolved from a three-bedroom house to a village of dome-shaped structures dotted along Maraisburg Road in Roodepoort on the West Rand.

Working as a nurse, McClintock started caring for HIV-positive patients from her home. Word spread and demand for her services grew.

Eight years ago McClintock acquired a piece of land to build the village.

The village now operates a hospice for adults and children and a children's home for orphans.

The unique igloo-shaped structures were built in 2001. The domes, without ceilings, are central to its patients' healing process.

"The shape allows for air to circulate within the building, which is good for infection control. It means there is fresh air all the time," says Ledwaba.

Patients at the hospice are referred to the village by hospitals, members of the community and churches.

The children's home is a haven for more than 170 kids. They are looked after by more than a dozen "house mothers" in cluster homes who ensure that their physical, emotional and educational needs are catered for.

They attend schools around the area, some catering for children with various physical, mental and learning disabilities.

"Mornings are hectic at this place. We have to ensure that all the children are here and ready for school. It is not easy, we have to work hard as a team and organisation is important," says Ledwaba.

Sparrow looks after the children until they finish school or are old enough to take care of themselves.

But the transition from a protected environment to the outside world is not easy, says Ledwaba.

Those who have completed school are placed in a "transition home" where they are introduced to life skills through learnerships and training.

Sparrow also welcomes volunteers and mentors, especially at weekends, to spend time with patients and the children.

"It's important for children to have role models," says Ledwaba.


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