Soroptimists Support Debbie Smith’s work at the Karl Bremer Hospital in Cape Town
A chance conversation at the 2017 Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland conference in Cardiff led to a very informative and thought-provoking evening earlier this month for SI Tenby and District. Debbie Smith, known as ‘Dr. Debbie’, lives in South Africa and attended the conference as a member of SI Cape of Good Hope. As result of this chance meeting Dr. Debbie agreed to address SI Tenby on her next visit to the UK.
Dr. Debbie began her talk by explaining her circumstances after the death of her husband, when she became involved in a charity called ‘A House for Humanity’ which builds houses for those in extreme poverty in South Africa.. She personally paid £180 to a local builder so that a house could be completed.
Following this, Debbie retired from her teaching career and returned to the Western Province of South Africa. She currently works in the Karl Bremer hospital, which covers an area equivalent to a third of England. Debbie deals with children of all ages who are HIV positive. There remains a stigma around HIV and many of these children are at risk of being attacked for their drugs through the growing gang culture. Some of these children have to travel long distances to attend their appointments, where they are tested regularly to ensure the treatment is effective. Children also travel from the Eastern Cape to access the free medication provided by the Western Province.
However, of greatest concern is the sexual risk that these children face on a daily basis. Dr.Debbie has started a scheme to help children to protect themselves. She had noted that none of these children wore underwear and because of this they are attacked and abused by HIV positive men. They believe that this will cure them as they pass on the deadly virus to children, both boys and girls. Under Debbie’s scheme, the children are given seven pairs of pants, one for every day of the week. They are told that these pants should only be removed by themselves, their mother, or their ‘gogo’ (who is their grandmother). This empowers the children, who are taught to say ‘No’.
Dr. Debbie also talked about her work in the ‘Kangaroo’ ward at the Karl Bremer Hospital – the special care baby unit for premature babies, where most of the mothers are also HIV positive. She works with Dr. Beryl Lebranto, the lead Paediatrician, and three other volunteers, including the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The hospital is very dated, with no central heating, causing particular difficulties between May and August, when it becomes very cold at night. Many of these babies have been abandoned because of the high costs of caring for premature babies. There are insufficient incubators – only nine in the whole hospital. To keep the babies warm, the volunteers often use bodily contact and Dr. Debbie explained, to the amusement of her audience, that all of her jumpers are baggy at the front as she usually had a baby tucked in there. However, on a more serious note, she concluded her talk by stating that these babies also desperately needed hats and nappies.
Si tenby members were delighted to be able to present Dr. Debbie with a large selection of knitted hats and a large nimber of packs of children’s underwear. They hope to continue to support her in this inspirational work in Cape Town.
Friendship Link Co-ordinator: Iris Davies
Soroptimist Clubs across the world are connected through Friendship Links. This is a way to share Soroptimist work, partner in community projects and, in times of disaster, come together – as they did in the time of the landslide tragedy in Uttrakhand in India, or the typhoon disaster in Philippines. Together linked Clubs share ideas to mark International Women’s Day or 16 days of Activism, a recent event.
We have friendship links with three clubs in Charlois, Cheltenham and Lewes. Most recently, we have co-operated with SI Lewes in their programme action project involvement with Desconocida, a global mass collaboration, protesting continuing murders of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Since 1993, 14,525 murders have been committed in Ciudad Juárez bordering on the United States, of which 1,248 have victimised women. Most of these crimes against men, women and children remain unpunished
To date, 6200 name tags have been hand embroidered and are installed on the wall in Victoria Gallery &Museum in Liverpool, part of the exhibition “Remember Them”.
SI Tenby is proud to have contributed 40 hand embroidered tags to this vital project. Desconocida Unknwon Ukjent continues to expand, sadly because new victims arrive each day on the list of murdered women in Ciudad Juaréz. The project will last as long as the situation there remains unchanged and functions as a continuous remembrance and points to our reality of abuse and murder, something we cannot escape but have to continuously fight.