15 June 1956 was the day on which the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital first opened its doors.
60 years later to the day, the Children’s Hospital Trust invited supporters, patrons, donors, friends and staff members of the Hospital to a special High Tea at Kelvin Grove in Newlands in celebration of that important event.
As guests began to arrive and take their seats around the tables in the beautifully decorated ballroom, singer Harry Curtis created the perfect musical backdrop. I shared a table with my friends Glynnis and Max Schutte of the Pinelands Muse (our monthly community magazine).
It was lovely to see some familiar faces – not just the team from the Children’s Hospital Trust, but also some of my friends from the military – Lt Col Bryan Sterne and Capt (SAN) Trunell Morom, both of whom were an integral part of the Defence Reserves Provincial Office of the Western Cape before their recent retirement, and Staff Sergeant Pat Greyling of the Cape Town Highlanders. I have seen (and photographed 🙂 ) all of them often at military parades.
NB: A very big thank you to Glynnis Schutte for allowing me to use some of the photos that she took at the High Tea. And this blogpost has grown into a fairly lengthy one, so I recommend you make yourself a cup of tea (or hot chocolate, given the freezing cold weather we’re having at the moment) and enjoy the read! I have written about the Hospital on a few occasions – here is the link to some of the other posts.
A Living Memorial
The founding of the Hospital is largely thanks to the generosity of South African servicemen and veterans, returning home from World War II. Having witnessed first-hand the ravages of war, they felt compelled to create a living memorial that would be a place of healing in honour of their fallen comrades. They thus donated two days’ pay to a special fund and, in close collaboration with the Red Cross Society and the Cape Provincial Government, used this money to establish a Hospital that would focus specifically on the provision of paediatric services.
Mr Vyvyen Watson, one of the veterans, became the chairman of the Building Committee, when the Hospital was built in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The bronze statue of Peter Pan that stands in front of the Hospital’s main entrance and that forms the focal point of the Remembrance Day Services held here in November each year, had been donated by him. It commemorates his four-year-old son Peter, who passed away of diphtheria at a time when there was no specialist children’s hospital.
The Circle of Life Legacy Programme
We were welcomed by Liz Linsell of the Children’s Hospital Trust, the fundraising arm of the Hospital.
Liz is the head of the Circle of Life Legacy Programme. This programme encourages individuals to leave legacies and make donations to the Hospital, whether during their lifetimes, or in their Wills. Much of the Trust’s work is only possible thanks to the continued generosity of their donors, patrons and supporters, and in fact, these funds from private individuals are vital for the future financial survival of the Hospital. They have enabled the Hospital to upgrade its facilities, expand paediatric healthcare projects, purchase vital state-of-the-art equipment, conduct critical research and develop its professional staff. The Trust prides itself on the fact that 100% of all donations are spent on improving the Hospital, and that not a single cent is used to cover administrative or operational expenses, which are funded by the Western Cape Government: Health.
The Trust, created at a time when the Hospital was in dire financial straits, celebrated its 21st birthday last year (2015). I had attended their special morning tea, where the speaker was one of the most extraordinary grannies you could imagine: Georgina Harwood, a very sprightly 100-year-old lady who made the headlines when she went tandem-skydiving to celebrate her 100th birthday! (Read my blogpost.)
Supporting A Common Purpose
The existence of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital is proof of the miracles that can happen when like-minded people come together for a common purpose – and when they are motivated to give support to that purpose, whether in material or financial terms or in a myriad of other ways.
The Children’s Hospital Trust is currently running a campaign to raise R10 million to build an improved ICU. Impressively, they are halfway there – and I hope that they will reach their target soon!
But it is not just financial support that is needed.
The Friends of the Children’s Hospital Association (FOCHA) depends on the generosity of its volunteers, who donate their talents and skills, their time, their knowledge and their experience to help create a compassionate environment where the little patients as well as their families can feel safe and supported, and where they can heal. Volunteers play with the youngsters and read to them, and also look after their families and caregivers. They are always looking for volunteers (local and international), so if you love kids and want to do something for a very worthy cause, please contact them via their website.
“An Inside Story” by Emeritus Prof Jenny Thomas
We had two main speakers at our special High Tea at Kelvin Grove. The first speaker was Emeritus Professor Jenny Thomas, recently retired head of Paediatric Anaesthesia, who presented “An Inside Story” on the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
The Hospital is currently the only specialist paediatric hospital in Southern Africa, successfully treating very complex life-threatening and life-limiting conditions among children in this region and beyond. A staggering 260,000 patients are seen at the Hospital each year – the sickest children from the poorest and most marginalised communities. Astonishingly, more than one-third of the Hospital’s patients are less than one-year-old. Patients are referred to the hospital from the Western Cape, the rest of South Africa, the African continent, and even from other parts of the world – because the quality of care is absolutely superb.
The Hospital has 8 main operating theatres, a day surgery theatre and a trauma theatre. Approximately 10,000 anaesthetics are performed a year – which is almost 30 a day! This is even more impressive considering that only a handful of anaesthetists are permanently based at the Hospital. Prof Thomas mentioned anaesthetists such as Arthur Bull, Joe Osinski (who worked with Chris Barnard during his heart transplants) and Tom Voss, who played such a significant role in the development of this discipline.
There are/were other Children’s Hospitals in the country – the Transvaal Memorial Children’s Hospital (1923 to 1978) – erected as a memorial to the men of the Transvaal who lost their lives in World War I (info from here), and Addington’s Children’s Hospital in Durban (1931 to the 1990s) – which is currently being rebuilt as the KZN Children’s Hospital. A hospital in Pretoria was planned, but never happened. Tygerberg Children’s Hospital opened in 2001, and still exists today, albeit as part of the general Tygerberg Hospital. The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg has been under construction since 2014, and the opening is planned for some time this year (2016).
But the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital stands out as currently one of only two hospitals in the country with the purpose of providing and improving paediatric health care.
Prof Thomas also spoke about the improvements that have happened in paediatric child care in recent decades: nowadays, the approach is far more child-friendly and holistic; parents are allowed to be with their sick children, instead of being sent home. The emphasis is on creating a relationship of trust and creating a healing space within the hospital, by means of music, art, aromatherapy, massage, movement, yoga, and such-like modalities. There have also been significant improvements in medical care and anaesthesia; she mentioned neonatal units, transplantation, trauma units, burn units, etc. specifically for children.
Improvements in computer and cellphone technologies have had a significant impact too: the Hospital regularly has webcam conferences with other countries around the world to share knowledge and skills. The theatres have been digitised since 2006, incorporating increasingly sophisticated technologies, minimally invasive surgery, skill training labs, simulation-based training workshops.
The Hospital furthermore provides training for new paediatric specialists, offers postgraduate specialist paediatric medical and surgical training, conducts medical research into childhood diseases, and runs outreach programmes in the communities.
In her final words, Prof Thomas emphasised that, by helping and healing a sick child, doctors and caregivers are effectively helping the entire family.
“The Gift of Giving” by Braam Malherbe
Our second speaker, Braam Malherbe, is one of those rare individuals who clearly embodies the wonderful things that happen when purpose and passion unite.
He is described as an extreme adventurer, international motivational speaker, youth developer, TV presenter, and no-nonsense conservationist. His enthusiasm and passion for life is contagious; I found him to be an inspirational speaker.
Sharing his own personal history with us, he spoke about attending a wilderness survival camp as a young boy in 1974, and suddenly recognising the fragility of the Earth on which we are fortunate to live, and the imperative of protecting its incredible biodiversity for future generations. Humanity has caused so much destruction and the extinction of so many species that our survival on this planet is now uncertain. As he quite bluntly put it: “If you are not an asset, then you are a liability.”
He emphasised how education is crucial – particularly with regard to water, waste, energy and the conservation of all species (not only human beings). Not only do we lack respect for the earth, but we also lack respect for one another, and especially for another person’s right to be different and to hold different views. But change is imminent: We can no longer just take and consume, driven by individual need and greed – we have to give back, in whatever way we can, to the greater community, to the planet as a whole.
Braam is the founder of the Volunteer Wildfire Service; he also started the MyPlanet Rhino Fund, because he is passionate about conserving the rhino and also involved in training the rhino rangers. Have a look at this video, filmed during his visit to a Rhino Orphanage, in which he explains the concept behind the brilliant MySchool/MyVillage/MyPlanet fundraising programme: basically, you register for the card, choose one to three beneficiaries (schools or charities) that you would like to support, and every time you make a purchase and swipe your card at more than 1500 outlets, retailers, shops, businesses who support the programme around the country, the business will donate a percentage of that payment to your chosen beneficiaries – at no cost to you.
He told us of his meeting with astronaut Neil Armstrong, who had told him the story of how, as a young boy, he was lying on the lawn one day, looking up at the moon; he had asked his father, “Do you think we’ll ever walk on the moon?” His father replied with a question: “Would you like to?” This was the seed of his greatest dream – and motivated him to take the steps that would ultimately lead to him being the first person to walk on the moon!
Finding a Purpose Beyond the Ego
He also spoke about the need to find a purpose beyond the ego – a big dream or vision that inspires us not only through good times but also when we face seemingly insurmountable difficulties. He told us the story of how, in 1975, he ran from Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town with a school friend in order to raise funds for an environmental project on the Langebaan lagoon. Being surrounded with like-minded people and having a purpose beyond the ego kept him going.
In 2006, Braam and his friend David Grier ran along the entire length of the Great Wall of China – a distance of some 4200 km. Effectively, this meant running an average of 43 km (a full marathon) per day, six days a week, for over 100 days, from autumn to winter. This was despite the fact that he described himself as ‘not a runner’. 🙂 It was a world first! He wrote about the experience in his best-selling book, “The Great Run” (Read more on Braam’s website).
Together with Round Table SA, Braam and David raised over R2 million for Operation Smile SA, allowing more than 420 children with deformities such as cleft palates and lips to receive corrective facial surgeries. He showed us a short video clip of some of the children who underwent such surgery – both before and afterwards – and the transformation is nothing short of miraculous.
In 2008, Braam and David Grier ran along the coastline of South Africa, from Oranjemund via Cape Town to Ponte d’Oro in Mozambique, covering a distance of 3300km in 80 days. This had been a challenge from Cipla’s Miles for Smiles Foundation, to raise funds for life-changing operations on children with cleft palates and cleft lips (Read more on Braam’s website).
In 2011, Braam and fellow adventurer Pete van Kets represented South Africa in an unassisted race to the South Pole, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen’s journeys to the South Pole in 1911/1912. They pulled their own sleds, weighing around 85kg each, over a distance of some 768 km, in temperatures around -45°C with high winds. Of the seven teams that participated, only three made it to the finish line – Braam and Pete came third (Read more on Braam’s website).
The Do One Thing Campaign
Throughout his talk, Braam emphasised the value of ‘doing one thing’ to make a positive difference to the future of our planet. This has become the foundation of his “Do One Thing” Campaign: it is based on the understanding that it is the accumulation of a whole lot of small things, small actions, small choices, that collectively make a big difference over time.
The DOT Campaign is at the core of their next adventure, which will begin on 1 January 2017, the starting date of the Cape-to-Rio Yacht Race. This race takes place every 3 years and is one of the toughest yacht races in the world. Braam and Peter will be doing the seemingly impossible: rowing, unassisted, from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro, and covering a distance of 6,700 km – another world first! (Read more on Braam’s website)
But it is not just about reaching their destination. As Braam puts it on his website: “Pete and I do not succeed in our mission by simply reaching Rio safely; we succeed if we all pull together. Our goal is to have someone Doing One Thing (DOT) for the Earth for every stroke we pull…that’s around 2.3 million DOTS and that can cause a tipping-point!”
I urge you to have a look at his website – and to become part of the “Do One Thing” Campaign.
You can start by getting a MySchool Card, choosing a beneficiary like the Rhino Fund, and getting the retailers you support to donate some of their profits to charity. Or you can make a bequest in your Last Will and Testament to the Children’s Hospital Trust, to help them with one of their large-scale projects. Or you can volunteer your time via the Friends of the Children’s Hospital. Or you can simply start in your own household by separating your recycling waste, composting your food scraps in the garden, replacing normal light bulbs with LEDs, switching off lights that you don’t need, walking to the nearby shops instead of driving, or taking short showers instead of a long bath. There’s loads of way to make a positive difference to our environment.
He left us with these inspiring words:
“If you Dream Big, Plan Well and Minimize Risks, Nothing is Impossible!”