South Africans are excitedly awaiting their freedom.
Freedom Day on 27 April marks a five-day countdown – to 1 May – when the current lockdown will be relaxed to Level 4. This will grant people a few more precious permissions and newfound liberty amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
But for 17 children and young adults at the Little Angels haven for children with disabilities in the Western Cape, the end to the hard lockdown will have zero impact. They suffer the most severe form of human disability and will remain strictly immobile and physically confined.
On Friday, nothing will change for them.
“These are some of the most vulnerable human beings in our midst. And now we are calling for the public’s help,” their registered nurse and centre manager, Tanya de Jager, told News24.
Little Angels is located in the suburb of Bridgewater, Somerset West, in the east of the Cape Town metro.
The children and young adults are aged from three to 25 – and all are severely physically and mentally disabled.
All were born with cerebral palsy. Three are being fed through tubes.
Meet some of the kids
The child, whose nickname is “Tinkie Linkie”*, aged four, also suffers from epilepsy and hydrocephalus – a build-up of fluid in the cavities deep within the brain.
“Tsheppie”, aged seven, is further compromised by epilepsy and microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s head is significantly smaller.
And “Baby”, 16, battled through hydrocephalus, epilepsy and myelomeningocele – a birth defect in which a baby’s spinal cord fails to develop or close properly in the womb.
The children’s list of extreme difficulty is long – and perpetual. When the hard lockdown ends, they will remain trapped by their lifelong conditions.
The home was founded in 2005, and caring for the children is an intensive operation: 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This comprises strict and complex medicine regimes, three meals a day, twice-a-day washing regimes, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy, play therapy, an adaptive learning programme, singing and more.
The children share bedrooms – boys separated from girls, and in age brackets.
De Jager explained their journey through the lockdown: “After [President Cyril Ramaphosa] addressed the nation for the first time, the management and board of Little Angels had an emergency meeting.
“We decided we would have to have systems in place. We already practise strict hygiene measures at the home – such as handwashing and sanitising – now we just needed to start practising social distancing as far as possible with the children.
“This, for the staff, would be extremely difficult as the children that we care for are completely dependent on assistance with all tasks of daily living – like brushing teeth, washing faces, bathing, feeding, nappy changing, dressing and therapies.
“We discussed how we would build and improve on our infection control policies, and further education was given to the staff with regards to the virus.
“Four absolutely incredible ladies volunteered to stay with the children during the lockdown period. They entered the home on the evening of 26 March, and they have been at the home since, performing their duties with love and care.
“I have the utmost respect for these four ladies, who are putting our children before themselves,” De Jager said.
“We gave those parents who could the opportunity to take their children home for the lockdown period. If they decided to rather leave their children here, they were informed that they could not come and visit as we were going to limit movement to and from the house.
“We also suspended all volunteers and other visitation to the home. But we keep all the parents updated with regards to what we are implementing at the home.”
A range of strict disciplines are in place, to keep monitoring.
“At present, we do a daily monitoring of everyone’s temperature – staff and child. We continue with very strict infection control – handwashing and sanitising. Nobody is allowed onto the premises. All foodstuffs brought onto the premises are washed down and disinfected before it may enter the house,” she said.
The home receives grants from the Western Cape Department of Health, and has also been recognised as practising the highest standards of governance in the disability healthcare sector.
But this vital support still falls short, and the need remains great. The home needs constant funding.
“The biggest challenge that we sit with at present is nappies and gloves. Currently, there is a shortage of adult nappies and gloves that we usually receive from the state.
“We are very fortunate to be receiving food donations from a local supplier/chain store. Organisations and individuals that are very involved with our NPO often call and offer assistance in any way they can. The phone calls of encouragement and just asking ‘how we are doing’ goes a long way too,” De Jager said.
“We would be so grateful for our surrounding communities’ support.”
Contact Little Angels Home on 021 851 0908; email email@example.com; or visit littleangelshome.co.za.
*Real names of minors have been withheld in line with the South African Press Code.