Caption: There are few events as stressful for parents as having your child hospitalised due to severe illness or injury, especially for impoverished families who can’t afford the trip to the hospital. Mustadafin Foundation (a non-profit organisation operating in the Western and Eastern Cape) together with The Friends of the Children’s Hospital Association (FOCHA) recognise parents’ needs whose children are hospitalised at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and are therefore partners in the Meal-a-Day Programme. Over the past year the programme provided nutrition and care to almost 100 parents a day.

Many of the parents who sit day and night at their child’s hospital bedside are unemployed, single parents who have travelled far to reach the hospital where their child can receive medical attention. Feeding themselves is the last thing on their mind but for the past year, parents are comforted with a warm and healthy meal from Monday to Friday in the hospital lounge thanks to the Meal-a-Day Programme

“The children at the hospital are really ill with ailments ranging from kidney disease, heart disease and premature birthing difficulties. For many of the parents lunch time is the only time away from their child’s bedside. The sense of isolation disappears when parents have the opportunity to interact with other families who are dealing with similar, devastating situations,” says David Stephens, Director at FOCHA.

“I’ll never forget one dad whose seven year old son was a gunshot victim from Manenberg. He would come to me daily after lunch and say, ‘David, this is the highlight of my day. I know I’m going to get great food, a friendly smile from the staff and so much support. Thank you. I can taste the food was made with love and good intention.’ Lunch time becomes an oasis with a range of support. We aim to educate parents about their child’s illness, offer group support and train them in health and hygiene,” explains Stephens.

Every afternoon the hospital lounge comes alive with a buzz of conversation from parents who eagerly queue to find out what the day’s menu is. There is a stream of greetings and chatter, chinking plates and then a hush as they all dig in and enjoy the food.

A twenty year old mother, Robyn Klaasen, smiles her thanks and says, “I get to take care of myself for this short time when I eat, then I can go back to my child feeling a little stronger. My husband came from Atlantis to be with us after I was alone here for five days. Now at least I’m not so alone.”

Another mother, Kawthar Wessels, has been at her baby’s bedside for six days without going home or being relieved by family members. “When I sit with the warm meal on my lap and I smell the food, I can almost imagine being home,” says Wessels.

This project holds special value for Mustadafin Foundation. “These families need to know that there is support in their lowest moments and that they too are cared for. Hearing their various circumstances makes us understand the necessity and the privilege of doing what we do. Some of these parents are here for months on end and we are very pleased to make a difference in their time of need,” says Dawood Bisha, Feeding Coordinator at Mustadafin Foundation.

If you would like to support this initiative, contact Mustadafin Foundation at www.mustadafin.org.za or 021 633 0010. Visit FOCHA at friendsofthechildrenshospital.org