Nazareth Care: Giving Care to the Vulnerable
Twenty years ago, Nazareth House was famous for its pioneering care for “Aids Babies”. Erin Carelse visited the Cape Town facilities of Nazareth Care and shares her experience.
Nestled at the foot of Cape Town’s landmark Table Mountain is Nazareth House, founded by the Sisters of Nazareth.
An organisation that began as a humble dream for change has now become a place where the most vulnerable in society find sanctuary, love, and hope.
Nazareth House opened its doors in 1882 when a small group of Sisters arrived from London at the request of Bishop John Leonard of Cape Town with the purpose of providing care for the children and elderly who needed it the most.
Today, more than a century later, Nazareth Care spans the southern African region, with a wide variety of care facilities and outreach centres in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Kimberley, and Harare.
Lately, the various care programmes of the Nazareth Houses throughout South Africa have undergone a rebranding to become Nazareth Care, to provide a more holistic view of their services.
Arriving in Vredehoek, I was warmly welcomed and taken on a guided tour of the premises. One of the first things I noticed was the beautiful gardens and recreational areas that provide residents with a welcoming and friendly place to spend time together with their families and visitors.
The environment is stable, secure and loving. It feels like a home away from home, which is what Nazareth Care aims to provide.
I also met some of the dedicated and hardworking staff who take evident pride in the genuine care they provide for the wellbeing of the residents.
But, as so often, issues of funding are a constant concern.
Even with government support, the gap between what the organisation needs and what it receives is ever-increasing, and so Nazareth Care relies on the public’s support.
Child & Youth Care Centre
At Cape Town Nazareth Care, the Child and Youth Care Centre (CYCC) is specifically registered to care for children with disabilities and chronic and/or life-limiting health conditions.
Two decades ago, the facility became a well-known cause even outside the Catholic community for its pioneering care for “Aids Babies”. Even international celebrities would pop in to lend support.
Today, it accommodates children from 0-18 years, the majority of them have multiple diagnoses.
Common conditions include cerebral palsy, severe epilepsy, spina bifida, foetal alcohol syndrome, Down syndrome, impaired hearing, and impaired vision.
Some children are placed at Nazareth Care for committal stays (long periods of two or more years) or temporary safety placements (up to 90 days). All of them come from previously disadvantaged and impoverished communities.
The centre can accommodate a maximum of 40 children at one time and it currently has 39. The facility is usually full to capacity, and vacancies are generally filled rapidly due to the critical care and residential needs of children with severe disabilities and palliative conditions.
As a state-registered CYCC, Nazareth Care receives a government subsidy to provide for the children in its care.
But that doesn’t cover the complex medical needs of the children who receive holistic care from registered nurses, staff nurses, occupational therapists and physios. This cost is shouldered by the organisation, as it does not fall under the general functioning of a CYCC.
Some of the children attend special needs schools. While Nazareth Care doesn’t have to cover school fees in these cases, it does pay for stationery and school clothes.
The other children attend daycare centres/crèches to promote social interaction and development, which is another cost the organisation covers.
Transport is another huge cost. This includes daily transport to and from multiple schools each day, as well as multiple daily trips to local clinics, hospital, and care centres for emergency care and standard regular medical appointments with medical specialists.
At the centre, the staff does not show the concerns about finances: the Sisters and staff get the children ready for their daily routines, handling them with so much care. Everyone has a smile on their face, and the atmosphere is jovial.
In a corner of the room, one of the older children is enjoying a visit with a family member. It was a bittersweet scene because some of the other children there won’t get to experience that.
Sr Anne Margaret Craig, regional superior of Nazareth House Southern African Region, has been with the home since 1986. She said the saddest and most difficult situation is for someone to be completely alone in the world—not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually.
“To be without a sense of belonging, not knowing one’s ‘roots’, not having family members, not sharing the same blood, the same name, and not being able to experience a caring, loving supportive relationship with close family members… most of us cannot even begin to imagine what this can feel like,” she said.
Sr Craig said that every effort is made to give the children the love and care they so desperately need—but they can never replace the love and sense of belonging that comes from a real close family bond.
“For many years we have received abandoned and orphaned babies and small children into Nazareth Care and these numbers escalated so quickly as the Aids pandemic began,” she said.
“As these children grew, their biggest question was always, ‘Where/who is my mother, my family?’, ‘Where did I come from?’, and ‘Why don’t I have a family like my friends at school?’”
The organisation has facilitated some wonderful reunions of children with family members, usually after real “detective work”, travelling to areas around Upington, Beaufort West, Oudtshoorn and even as far as Mpumalanga and North West provinces.
But sadly there are always those children whose parents will never be found.
“It has been such a blessing when we find loving and dedicated adoptive parents for these children, several within our own Catholic parishes,” Sr Craig said.
“I remain in touch with many of them, and it is so rewarding to receive warm family photos and surprise visits as the children grow and become more and more embedded into their new families,” she said.
“I am so grateful to God for finding these families, and to the families themselves for opening their hearts and their homes in this way.”
On the room doors in the corridors of the residence for the elderly are the names and photos of the people who live there, aimed at making those who live there feel more at home.
In the rooms, family photos are on display, books on the table, furnishings by family members—all there to create a familiar and comforting environment for the residents.
Full-time care is provided to 74 frail elderly in the residences in Vredehoek and Elsies River. The elderly in their care are without family support and, without exception, suffer from age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s and diabetes. They require full-time nursing support.
The care facilities include independent living in self-contained apartments for seniors who can manage daily activities, where staff remain close to support or offer assistance.
Residents enjoy an independent lifestyle with immediate access to additional support as and when needed. Support includes assistance with daily living activities such as personal hygiene, medication and/or nutrition.
Frail care is offered, as well as 24/7 supervision for residents who are no longer able to fulfil daily tasks.
There is a specialised care centre developed in line with global best-practice standards for memory care which caters to the particular requirements of those diagnosed with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.
Several levels of care are offered, from recovery to palliative care.
Nazareth Care also offers respite for primary caregivers who sometimes need short-term relief to manage the strain of home-based care.
“We believe that everyone is entitled to a life of dignity, meaning and companionship,” said Wayne Devy, Nazareth Care African region’s CEO.
“Our residents do enjoy the comfort of home in a place where we coordinate a tailored approach so as to attend to their individual needs—emotional, spiritual and physical.”
Besides providing residential care for the many children and elderly in their facilities, the Sisters of Nazareth are also involved in community work and outreach centres across South Africa.
Some of these include food and soup kitchens in Schauderville, Port Elizabeth; outreach to poor and needy in Alexandra, Yeoville and Soweto in Johannesburg; support to night shelters, soup kitchens and the Masigcine Children’s home in Khayelitsha, Cape Town; home-based care and women’s self-help centre at Frances Shannon Hospice in Warrenton, Kimberley; and the Morning Star creche with 60 underprivileged children from surrounding areas at 14 Streams, and much more.
They also support St Kizito’s Children’s Project in Cape Town, by sharing their donations of spare children’s and baby goods.
Operating expenses at Nazareth Care are much higher than the revenue generated through board-and-lodging and government grants, so the organisation relies on donations and fundraising activities to ensure its sustainability and longevity.
“We have investigated and researched alternative income streams, including the launching of different and new campaigns,” said Mr Devy.
“From a national perspective, the 20K and Fund my Friends campaigns are created and designed to generate regular and consistent income to cover monthly operational expenses and resource shortfalls at the various houses and outreach centres,” he said.
These campaigns can be found on the new Nazareth Care website (www.nazarethcare.co.za).
“In all our activities, we continue to strive towards remaining true to the founding mission of the Sisters of Nazareth, in responding to the needs of the times, specifically of the most vulnerable within our communities. We are guided by our values of love, justice, hospitality, respect, compassion, and patience, and continue to build on these values in a personal and professional capacity,” Mr Devy said.
When Nazareth House was famous for its care for babies with HIV/Aids, the public collected not only funds but also necessary items, such as nappies.
This need still exists, along with that for other products. These include: body soaps, deodorants for boys and girls, Allergex syrup and tablets, baby nappies (size 5 and 6), adult nappies, linen, towels and much more.
For more information on how to help, contact Nazareth Care on 021 461-1635 or visit www.nazarethcare.co.za