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41 JUNE 2002
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child care workers

The loss of a child

Mandy Goble

On Sunday February 10, 2002, we lost one of our children. He had been living in our Amaqhawe (Little Hero's) Care Centre, and after a painful, lingering struggle with his illness, which left him a shadow of the young boy who loved to sing and dance, his spirit took leave of his ravaged body.

He has been on my mind and in my dreams over the past few weeks, and so I find myself with the desire to express the multitude of thoughts and feelings I have been struggling with.

I believe in a higher power – that is God. I trust that He has ultimate control over the world that we live in, I know He has a collective plan for humanity, and an individual plan for each of us. However I have struggled to understand how the wasteful, painful results of HIV /AIDS can serve any purpose. Watching young innocent children enduring enormous pain and suffering, struggling with accepting that there is no future for them, and the fear of dying, of not knowing what comes after death, has made me have to face my own mortality.

Daily our team stares death in the face. How honorable and brave these Child and Youth Care workers are. Every day I see something that leaves me in awe at the depth of their generosity, their care.

A few weeks before our child's death, one of our volunteers, a kind and caring woman, with a strong faith and belief in God was talking with me. She touched me deeply – it was as though through her words God was giving me a message to share with my team and colleagues. The message was that God blesses our work, that because of what we so willingly give to the children in our care, we are loved. I find that this thought has given me strength in dealing with this recent death and in preparing for the imminent death of two other young children. My fear is, however, whether this is sufficient to sustain me over the years to come, when death becomes a weekly reality in our programme.

For many of us Child and Youth Care was a career with a challenge, a challenge to assist children and young people in choosing healthy options for their lives. Now these same people are asked to assist young children and people to die with dignity and respect. There is little dignity in dying from HIV/AIDS, it strips one of all privacy. In the residential care centre, the care of these children is shared by the team... a number of unrelated adults privy to their most vulnerable moments.

I am concerned for our team. These courageous workers who with tender care minister to the needs of these children, who swallow their pain, who wipe away their tears and move on to the next child in need of attention.

Do I have the capacity to care for them and help them find the inner strength to keep going? I feel burdened by the enormous responsibility of caring for our team and thus enabling them to care for each other, and our children. But then I am reminded of the words of Gary Zukov, who talks about “hugging your fear”. I interpret this as meaning that if I face my fear with courage I will learn to conquer it. If I model this for my team, they too will learn to conquer their fear and the result will be a group of committed workers who offer children a glimpse of heaven amidst the reality of the horror on earth.

A simple slice of white bread has brought a smile of joy to the face of a dying child. A few moments discussing the beauty of angels has taken away the fear of going to sleep and not waking. A gentle back rub has brought comfort to a dying child. The courage to explore death and the life hereafter has brought peace to a young boy.

My ramblings have come to an end. Nothing has changed. I feel the same... but deep down inside me my spirit whispers that it is not for me to question the motives of God. It is for me to serve the children and staff in my care, with love, with respect, and above all with reverence.

I am grateful that of all the places in the world I could have been, I am in a city called Durban in South Africa; that of all the places that l could work, I work for an organisation known as The Durban Children's Home; that of all the things that I could be: I am a Child and Youth Care practitioner; that of all the things that I could have become, that I am Mandy – a complex combination of my past and present experiences, and the daily interactions I have with a team of inspired, courageous people who humble me with the greatness of their being.

The International Child and Youth Care Network
THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net)

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