Years 2003-2004

Our journey 2003-2004

In the first three months of 2003 we buried 280 of the patients we were supporting. This was a shock for us. By the end of 2002 we were burying an average of 55 patients per month, but now we had to deal with over 90 per month. The traumatic impact on our whole team was immense.

AIDS, and the consequences it leaves in its wake, is a deeply personal story.  The care-supporters had to draw on their inner strength to handle the burden that was surrounding them in their communities. Click here to read stories from the care-supporters as they selflessly went about their work.

Again, in response to requests from the community, who could see the positive impact that Thembalethu Home Based Care supporters were making through their caring response to the tragedy of AIDS, Thembalethu was soon operating in all villages in the Nkomazi and mentoring neighbouring communities.

Through the support of a number of volunteers, both in a private capacity, and from Peace Corps (USA), who willingly imparted much needed skills to help us meet our challenges, we were able to offer a broader scope of services.  Before long our team, who are all drawn from the local community, were given the capacity to work on computers which made it possible for us to manage the project and to be accountable to our partners.

This support enabled us to up-scale our garden project with the support of TSB, the South African Sugar Association and TRAC, (Trans-Africa Concession – transport company) who  erected a tunnel for us to provide seedlings for the home food gardens.

We were also able to intensify our children and youth programs in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Children’s fund - Goelema project.

WALK WITH US 2003-2004

Community needs identified

  • The hospitals and clinics did not have the capacity to handle the increasing number of patients
  • The problem of adults who were sick and dying at home, often depending on their children to care for them, was wide-spread throughout the community
  • Stigmatization of HIV affected families and individuals was endemic, to such an extent that people were reluctant to test their status
  • Affected children were highly traumatized
  • School attendance by affected children was sporadic and many children dropped out of school
  • Hunger continued to be a major problem
  • The number of deaths among single young people was increasing

How we met the needs –what we did

  • We intensified our training of home-based care-supporters to include training on how to record each service that was offered
  • We spread our coverage across the region
  • We increased our level of basic medical treatment which was dispensed from our medicine room
  • We employed a full time carpenter to make coffins
  • We offered individual counselling for care-givers, care-supporters and children
  • We trained a care-supporter to be able to provide legal aid to those needing support with birth-certificates, identity documents and other legal papers
  • We ran our first  ‘Orphan Adventure Week to improve the well-being of vulnerable children
  • We launched our Youth in Action (YiA) program with services that included all youth
  • We published and printed the weekly Nkomazi Voice as an HIV and AIDS teaching project and as a community development  instrument
  • We started with a project called Wildly African, as an arts and craft skills training centre with the goal of creating income generating opportunities
  • We established an HIV and AIDS care-centre at Block B village to service the Nkomazi East

Significant Events

  • In June 2003, the Youth in Action held the first economic summit to be held in Nkomazi. They invited the Mayor and a number of leading politicians and businessmen from the community and challenged them on what they were doing to improve the lot of the Nkomazi community.
  • The youth organized a festival which brought together over 15,000 young people. Training on HIV and AIDS was top of the program.
  • The publication of the Nkomazi Voice had a major impact on the community. It served a number of functions including, teaching about HIV and AIDS, acting as a ‘community conscience,’ provided reading material which wasn’t readily available in remote schools, encouraging independence and self-reliance through reporting on small businesses and provided a platform for debate and discussion.
  • In mid 2003, Mr Richard (Mr AL) Behm arrived as volunteer from USA. Al had many years experience in counselling and working with HIV affected communities in the USA and proved a valuable asset to the organization.  He established the VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing) work with the youth.
  • We intensified our “peer-to-peer” HIV and AIDS training as our youth drama team used plays and performances to spread awareness about AIDS to schools
  • We opened the Care-centre at Block B
  • The African Children’s Choir selected 30 children who went to School of Music in Cape Town and returned home to a rapturous welcome
  • In 2004 we trained  140 counsellors, under the auspices of the University of Pretoria,  and set up VCT support circles in 14 villages
  • The head of one of our child-headed homes, who was a girl of 15, was selected to attend an international conference on vulnerable children. She was sponsored by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
  • in 2004 the YiA were invited by a group of commercial farmers in the Lowveld to participate,  in an attempt to break the Guinness world record for the longest washing line.

Facts and figures of interest

  • On our first Adventure week, 48 OVC’s (out of 120), December 2003, were identified as requiring follow-up for emotional support and 18 were deeply traumatized and in need of special care.
  • We were caring for over 300 critical patients at any one time
  • We built more houses for vulnerable children


Region /Country Villages / Satellite Organizations

Number of Care-Supporters

Number of patients At one time

Nkomazi West 14 villages


+ 900

Barberton 1 Group


+ 180

Matsulu 1 Group


+ 200

Nkomazi East Mbuzini


+ 200



+ 200

(starting April  2003) + 10 villages


        +- 1000
Mozambique Maputo 1 & 2


+ 300

Swaziland 1 Group


+ 180




These two years were very difficult ones for us. It was heart-breaking to see the devastation left in the wake of AIDS and we realized that everyone in the community needed to join together to fight the pandemic. We lobbied hard with local and provincial governments and received a measure of support, however, although South Africa had already traveled through ten years of democracy, racism was rampant and because Thembalethu had “white people” working for it, government dug in its heels and refused to support us in the measure that was needed.  In spite of this, the statistics on our deliverables proved that we were making a positive impact in the community and were providing a safety net for the most vulnerable in our society.

We learnt that due to high levels of unemployment there was little hope of hunger being abated in the short term and we intensified our garden project and skills-training programs.

We learnt that the youth had their own needs and if we were to be successful in reaching out to them we had to meet these needs. Our YiA program was successful in addressing this issue.

We learnt that stigmatization of people deemed to be affected by HIV and AIDS ran very deep in the community and we sought to address this by using drama performances about HIV and AIDS and other relevant subjects.


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