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.

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