Helemina Nangoro: Giving care with love

By Nawaal Deane

Until a few years ago, Helemina Nangoro did not receive a salary for comforting people dying from Aids.

Fortunately, she now receives a reasonable salary working as a carer at the Soweto Hospice in Mofolo.

"I do this job because I love it," she said, her intense eyes belying her youthful beauty.

"This job is hard to cope with and sometimes I feel pain when I lose three or four patients in one week. Sometimes I blame myself, feeling I should have done more. But in the end I know I did my best."

Every day she clocks in at the Mofolo Clinic to get supplies for the patients she will visit in her community.

During the interview, she walked me around the modest hospice, with its brightly coloured murals, quietly showing me where the terminal patients slept.

Nangoro chose to be a volunteer at the clinic, where she was trained in 2001, because she could not afford to go to nursing college.

"I remember a woman who had five children, aged from 12 to three. I would worry that the children would be alone when their mother died. But luckily we managed to get her to the hospice and the children were given support."

Nangoro's humility enables her to look after strangers at their most vulnerable, bathing them, dressing their wounds, listening to their fears and giving them love.

"People who are dying want to be loved," she says.

She does not over-analyse or try to explain what drives her.

"I tried to leave a few years ago but I love my work and can't leave my patients."

Her work environment changed radically when the government made anti-retroviral treatment available to the public in 2003.

"It was very difficult before 2002. We saw many patients who could not be saved. The only thing we could do was to tell them to go to a clinic, but we knew they would only get sent home.

"Most of my patients died. But now at least I can refer them to a hospital for treatment.

"There is a lot of stigma in the homes of Aids patients. They become isolated because families are too afraid to share their cups or even their blankets."

The day I met Nangoro at the hospice a few patients chattered away while sitting around a table making beaded red ribbons, creating quite a buoyant atmosphere.

Nangoro had a quiet day ahead of her, with only four patients to care for. Two were bedridden and the other two, though healthier, still needed to be monitored to check whether they were maintaining their anti-retroviral treatment.

This is an essential component of her work because adhering to the prescribed drugs is vital to those living with Aids.

"Sometimes my patients are tired of taking the tablets every day. They do not feel like it and get depressed.

"When I visit them, I give them the emotional support necessary to keep them taking the tablets."

She believes that the country's Aids campaign has not proved effective in preventing the spread of Aids among the young because "we still see high levels of HIV infection".

But Nangoro remains hopeful.

She says at the beginning of the month, on World Aids Day, she celebrated the fact that fewer of her patients were dying than in the past. - Health.e