Volunteer spreads joy at Bara for 22 years
Working as a hospital volunteer is all about spreading joy and helping others, says S’phiwe
HE’S not a doctor, nor is he a nurse, yet he’s up at 4am every day to start tending to patients at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto at 7am. S’phiwe Msimango (66) has been working as a volunteer at the hospital for 22 years – and he loves every minute of it.
His reward, he says, is spreading joy to patients, especially kids who are away from their families.
S’phiwe has been a fan of the theatre for many years and often arranged trips for people from his Diepkloof neighbourhood to go see shows.
He asked the theatres and other venues to donate tickets, and they often would.
He decided to do this “because enter
tainment is therapy”.
One of the regulars on his outings was a nurse who worked at Bara who asked if he could do the same for patients.
“They simply asked that I show the children the same love I show to my community,” he tells DRUM.
Officially, S’phiwe is a volunteer porter, but his job involves much more than wheeling patients through the corridors.
The pensioner’s day-to-day tasks include going to the pharmacy to collect medication for patients, walking patients to the nearby taxi rank when they’re discharged, transferring them to different parts of the hospital, and calling relatives for them.
And when it comes to the kids in the Paediatric Haematology and Oncology outpatient unit at Bara, S’phiwe pulls out all the stops.
He not only arranges snacks and treats for the kids, he’s also organised and hosted birthday and graduation parties, with a little help from the likes of The River star Sindi Dlathu, gospel group Joyous Celebration, and radio presenter Bob Mabena.
S’phiwe gets celebs to visit with the kids, simply by calling their talent agencies to ask for some star power at the events.
“I ask people to help with these things, because if it was not for them, I could not have done any of this,” he says.
When he wants to take the kids to a show at a theatre, local taxi drivers often volunteer to transport them.
“I always laugh and say it’s good marketing for the theatre, because they give me the tickets for free, and when other people hear about the show, they don’t want to be left out so they go and buy the rest,” he laughs.
S’PHIWE loves being around people, and making them feel good, but he was initially a little nervous about volunteering at the hospital. He knew it wouldn’t be easy to spend time with kids who were battling cancer. “I was in another world,” he admits, but adds that once he met the kids, he was moved by them.
The nurses told him all they needed were the simple things – toys, fruit, sweet treats and company. Many of the kids’ parents work in the informal sector and are not able to visit as frequently as they would like.
Another challenge for S’phiwe, and the staff, was fitting in.
Idah Kgoroeadira (59), a nurse at the hospital since 1995, says some nurses questioned S’phiwe’s motives.
“They wanted to know if he was using
the children to get money out of people, but even comments like that never dampened his spirit,” she says.
Dr Gita Naidu, a paediatric oncologist at Bara, says the personal care and attention S’phiwe gives the kids is invaluable.
His caring spirit gives the children hope that they can overcome the battle they are fighting, says Dr Naidu.
He helps bathe and feed the kids, and takes them for walks around the hospital so they can get fresh air. “They need all the support and love that they can get,” she says.
Working at the hospital is a constant reminder of how fragile life can be, says S’phiwe. “The sad thing about the cancer patients is that one moment you are playing and laughing with them, the next minute they are gone,” he says.
A few months ago he was joking and laughing with a young patient and her mother, and 30 minutes after the mother left the hospital the child suddenly died. “The do c to r sa id the cancer had spread and there was nothing they could do.
“You have to appreciate every second and every minute. Life can change very quickly,” he warns.
HE DECIDED to volunteer after he lost his job at a printing company. Though he does what he does for free, his family “never goes to bed hungry”. “People always ask how I manage to survive. I tell them God looks after me.”
He does have days when he might not
have money for lunch or even for a taxi to go home, but that is when the community helps. “People are always surprised when I ask for money but they open their hearts and give to me when I ask,” he says.
Over the years many people have offered to volunteer too, but few are as committed as S’phiwe is. “This job must be done with love,” he says. “Many people have come here and said they will take over but they never do, because they don’t realise that working at a hospital is not about money, it’s about love.”
S’phiwe has a good heart, says his son, Vusi (45), a driving instructor. “He has so much time for people and gives so much of himself. I hope his story can be an example for us all.”
Vusi says he and his brother, Bongani (43), have learnt a lot from their father. “I’m grateful for him because he has found his passion.” S’phiwe’s hard work was recently rewarded by mining magnate Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, who presented him with a Ni ssan bakkie, as a thank you for his years of work.
In 2016 Daphne lost her 19-year-old daughter, Zakithi Nkosi, to a rare cancer called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. The Stanley and Daphne Nkosi Foundation and the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital launched the Zakithi Nkosi Clinical Haematology Centre of Excellence on 1 June, with a R51-million pledge from the foundation.
S’phiwe, who doesn’t have a driver’s licence, will use his new bakkie to help transport patients home from hospital, and to collect food from donors for pensioners in the hospital, with a little
‘Working at a hospital is not about money, it’s about love’
S’phiwe Msimango in the bakkie he received from mining magnate Daphne Mashile-Nkosi to thank him for what he does.
S’phiwe Msimango is affectionately called Malume by the young patients at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital where he volunteers.
With colleagues Idah Kgoroeadira (left) and Dr Gita Naidu.