Eas­ing the bur­den of care

Know­ing some­one else ac­tu­ally cares about the well­be­ing of the fam­ily makes an enor­mous dif­fer­ence

The Witness - - FEATURES - SHARON DELL

AF­TER­pack­ing­her­grand­chil­dren­off­toschool,­ Bu­sisiwe­ Dlamini*­ took­ a­ tax­ifrom­her­home­in­Smero­and­trav­elled­into­the­heart­of­Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

Af­ter­alight­ing­in­West­Street,­the­61year-old­grand­mother­slowly­made­her­way­up­to­the­Lan­gal­ibalele­Street­of­fice­sof­ Than­danani­ Chil­dren’s­ Foun­da­tion(TCF)­where­she­asked­to­speak­to­“the­m­an­ager”.

At­that­time,­the­only­per­son­avail­able­was­Richard­Mood­ley,­the­fi­nan­cial­man­ager,­who­duly­pre­sented­him­self­at­the­front­desk.

Upon­see­ing­him,­Dlamini­started­tos­peak­but­quickly­broke­down­and­wept.It­took­some­time­to­es­tab­lish­the­rea­son­for­her­visit:­Dlamini­wanted­to­thank­the­peo­ple­at­Than­danani­for­their­help­but­was­over­whelmed­by­grat­i­tude­an­drelief­in­do­ing­so.

The­ stress­ fac­ing­ South­ African­car­e­givers­—­many­ of­ whom­ are­ poorand­ el­derly­—­is­ a­ mat­ter­ of­ pub­li­crecord­but­rel­a­tively­lim­ited­pub­lic­ac­tion.­Last­year’s­re­port­by­the­Cen­tre­forSo­cial­Devel­opme­ nt­in­Africa­at­the­Univer­sity­of­Jo­han­nes­burg,­fam­ily­con­texts,child­sup­port­grants­and­child­well­bein­gin­South­Africa,­noted­that­lack­of­sup­port­to­care­givers­is­erod­ing­their­abil­i­tyto­ of­fer­ pos­i­tive­ emo­tional­ care,­ an­di­den­ti­fie­d­a­clear­need­among­care­givers“for­emo­tional­care­that­is­not­be­ing­ad­e­quately­man­aged­by­our­society­gen­er­ally”.

Dlamini,­a­widow­of­24­years­who­suf­fers­from­heart­prob­lems­and­di­a­betes,says­in­the­14­years­she’s­been­rais­ing­herthree­ grand­chil­dren,­ aged­ seven­ to14­years,­ she­ has­ re­ceived­ no­ sup­port­from­any­one.

Be­fore­the­TCF­in­ter­ven­tion,­the­chil­dren­had­been­sent­home­from­school­be­cause­they­didn’t­have­the­cor­rect­uni­form,­food­was­scarce­and­life­was­mis­er­ablein­ the­ fam­ily’s­ six-roomed­ mud­house­over­look­ing­the­Eden­dale­val­ley.

‘A WEIGHT OFF MY SHOUL­DERS’

Since­be­ing­sup­ported­as­a­ben­e­fi­cia­ryof­Than­danani’s­Fam­ily­Strength­en­ingPro­gramme­ (FSP),­ she­ de­scribes­ aweight­hav­ing­been­lifted­off­her­shoul­ders.­

School­uni­forms­have­been­sup­plied,the­chil­dren’s­progress­at­school­is­be­ing­mon­i­tored,­there­is­ac­cess­to­emer­gen­cy­food­parcels­and­veg­eta­bles­are­grow­ing­

in­a­fenced-off­area­in­the­yard.­Dlamini­her­self­is­now­a­mem­ber­of­a­20-per­son­self-help­ group­ fo­cused­ on­ sav­ing­ and­in­come­gen­er­a­tion.

More­than­ma­te­rial­as­sis­tance,­how­ever,­ know­ing­ some­one­ else­ ac­tu­al­ly­cares­about­the­well­be­ing­of­the­fam­ily,has­made­an­enor­mous­dif­fer­ence.

“It­helps­a­lot­to­know­some­one­el­seis­ there­ to­ help­ me­ with­ the­ rais­ing­ ofthe­chil­dren,”­said­Dlamini.

Re­search­ by­ Kid­man­ and­ Thur­man(2014)­—­“Care­giver­ bur­den­ amon­gadults­car­ing­for­or­phaned­chil­dren­in­rural­South­Africa”­—­points­to­house­hold­food­se­cu­rity­and­eco­nomic­vul­ner­a­bil­ityas­ the­ big­gest­ con­trib­u­tors­ towhat­ is­ termed­ “care­giver­ bur­den”,­ acon­cept­ which­ de­scribes­ the­ neg­a­tiveim­pact­of­care­giv­ing­and­in­cludes­sev­eral­as­pects­of­well­be­ing,­in­clud­ing­phys­i­cal,­so­cial­and­psy­cho­log­i­cal.

The­study­notes­that­feel­ings­of­stres­sand­ in­ad­e­quacy­ among­ care­givers,­ aswell­as­anger­to­wards­the­child,­are­com­mon,­point­ing­to­the­need­for­more­in­ter­ven­tions­fo­cused­on­emo­tional­sup­port­and­par­ent­ing­skills.

Ac­cord­ing­to­Than­danani’s­FSP­fa­cil­i­ta­torAgnes­ Mkhize,­ while­ rais­ing­ or­phaned­chil­dren­ in­ im­pov­er­ished­ cir­cum­stances­has­many­chal­lenges,­one­ofthe­big­gest­is­find­ing­the­emo­tional­re­sources­to­cope­with­this­ex­tended­bur­den­of­care.­Es­pe­cially­if­you­are­a­gogoand­now­have­to­care­for­your­grand­chil­dren­af­ter­their­par­ents­have­died,­as­so­many­have­in­our­coun­try.

Crit­i­cal­in­this,­is­telling­the­chil­dren­about­the­death­of­their­par­ent­and­help­ing­ them­ un­der­stand­ where­ he­ or­ she“comes­from”.

TALK­ING ABOUT DEATH

“When­I­was­a­child­nobody­spoke­about­death­to­me.­That­was­the­norm­at­thetime­and­still­is­to­a­large­ex­tent.­If­your­mother­dies,­you­are­told­only­that­she­has­ ‘gone­ away’,­ with­ the­ im­pli­ca­tion­that­she­will­re­turn­at­some­stage,”­saidMkhize.­“Some­of­the­chil­dren­grow­up­think­ing­ their­ aunt­ or­ sis­ter­ is­ their­mother.”

“Of­course,­it­is­an­at­tempt­to­pro­tect­the­child,­but­it­does­not­work.

“There­ are­ of­ten­ long-term­ con­se­quences­in­the­form­of­anger­and­in­some­cases,­phys­i­cal­vi­o­lence­on­the­part­ofthe­child.”

Through­Than­danani’s­care­giver­sup­port­groups­and­mem­ory­box­ac­tiv­i­ties,care­givers­are­taught­the­im­por­tance­of­telling­the­chil­dren­the­truth­about­th­eloss­of­loved­ones­—­and­the­or­gan­i­sa­tion­helps­them­ac­tu­ally­do­it.

“At­the­end­of­the­day,­the­truth­will­come­out­be­cause­neigh­bours­or­some­one­will­talk,­so­it­is­best­if­it­comes­fromthe­care­giver,”­said­Mkhize.

She­said­care­givers­of­ten­ini­tially­re­sist­the­idea­of­hon­esty­but­af­ter­ward­sad­mit­that­it­re­lieves­them­of­an­enor­mous­bur­den.

Mem­ory­Boxes­are­used­by­Than­dananito­ help­ fam­i­lies­ “tell­ their­ sto­ries”.­ The­box­of­fers­a­phys­i­cal­repos­i­tory­forthe­ col­lec­tive­ stor­age­ by­ the­ fam­ily­ ofme­men­tos­ and­ items­ which­ rep­re­sen­tand­hon­our­fam­ily­mem­bers­who­havedied.

Im­por­tantly,­it­is­also­a­plat­form­fora­broader­psy­cho­log­i­cal­process­in­volvi­ng­the­con­struc­tion­of­a­fam­ily­tree­and­hon­est­con­ver­sa­tions­around­the­fam­ily’s­his­tory­and­who­fits­in­where.

Than­danani­also­fa­cil­i­tates­care­giver­sup­port­groups­which­en­gage­care­giver­saround­com­mon­is­sues­such­as­loss­andthe­bur­den­of­care.

Here­they­are­also­in­tro­duced­to­con­cepts­such­as­“play­for­com­mu­ni­ca­tion”which­helps­them­build­sup­port­ive­re­la­tion­ships­with­the­chil­dren­in­their­care.The­groups­also­form­a­so­cial­func­tion,giv­ing­care­givers­an­op­por­tu­nity­to­mee­tother­ peo­ple­ in­ sim­i­lar­ cir­cum­stance­sand­to­share­ex­pe­ri­ences.

For­ chil­dren­ aged­ seven­ to­ 10­ years,Than­danani­field­work­ers­run­chil­dren’sgroups,­ and­ life-skill­ pro­grammes­ forchil­dren­over­11.

Both­ pro­grammes­ as­sist­ or­phanedand­vul­ner­a­ble­chil­dren­to­process­their­ex­pe­ri­ences,­build­re­silience­and­de­vel­op­pos­i­tive­cop­ing­strate­gies­and­life­skills.­

THE EXIT

Dun­can­An­drew,­Than­danani’s­di­rec­tor,says­the­im­por­tance­of­the­sup­port­of­feredby­ Than­danani­ usu­ally­ be­come­sev­i­dent­af­ter­three­years­when­the­fam­ily,hav­ing­been­part­of­the­pro­gramme,­is­again­able­to­pro­vide­in­de­pen­dently­forits­own­ba­sic­needs.

It­is­at­this­point­that­care­givers­of­ten­ex­press­the­fact­that­what­they­will­mis­s­the­ most­ is­ the­ reg­u­lar­ visit­ from­ theThan­danani­field­worker.

“This­ speaks­ to­ the­ value­ of­ hav­ing­some­one­ on­ which­ to­ lean­ in­ times­ ofhard­ship.

“Reg­u­lar­ vis­its­ by­ lo­cal­ field­work­er­sare­ key­ to­ help­ing­ vul­ner­a­ble­ fam­i­lies,and­par­tic­u­larly­the­care­givers­in­the­se­fam­i­lies,­feel­more­emo­tion­ally­se­cure,less­ iso­lated­ and­ able­ to­ cope,­ he­ said.

This,­he­said,­is­“the­heart­of­Than­danani”,­which­lit­er­ally­means­to­“loveone­an­other”.­

* Not her real name.

While rais­ing or­phaned chil­dren in im­pov­er­ished cir­cum­stances has many chal­lenges, one of the big­gest is find­ing the emo­tional re­sources to cope with this ex­tended bur­den of care. Es­pe­cially if you are a gogo and now have to care for your grand­chil­dren af­ter their par­ents have died.

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