DITIRO MOTLHABANE interviews a foster parent of 48 children who has made the war against HIV/AIDS her personal mission
Being diagnosed with the Human Immonu-deficiency Virus (HIV) in the early 90s gave Gosata Chabe, originally from Botalaote ward in Serowe, a more clear purpose in life.
She was released from employment, where she worked as a nurse; because of the 'mysterious' disease ravaging her body could not deter the mother of two-who has since transformed herself into compassion personified. Very little was known about HIV/ AIDS at the time as ignorance and stigmatisation ruled the roost.
Although she was suspicious of The Patriot on Sunday team's request for an interview at her home in Mogoditshane, Chabe soon settles down and speaks passionately about her transformation into a fulltime foster parent to 48 children that she has no biological connection to. "Ke bo ngwanake (they are my kids). I take care of their needs every day," she says with an air of conviction about her.
She was laid off on 25 February 1990 after the discovery of her HIV positive status Chabe . Chabe took her separation package and travelled to Australia to further her knowledge on the disease. Upon her return in 1995 she publicly disclosed her status and joined Bosa bosele home based care in Mogoditshane. In her volunteer work to sensitise the public about the disease and help those already afflicted at Bosa bosele, Chabe says she discovered that families were uncomfortable with discussing their ailments with a group. She then devised a plan to start visiting the sick at their homes on her own.
She then formed Tsogang Support Group, which was later registered in 2001 with the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs. The main target of the group at the time was adults suffering from HIV/ AIDS. "We met difficulties in the community as members of the family were reluctant to accept strangers in their homes to take care of their sick. We made shocking discoveries of grandmothers overdosing patients while some patients defaulted on their medication," she said. But Chabe was not discouraged. She brought the gravity of the situation to social workers. Meanwhile she also kept persuading the care-givers until she managed to have a break through. In her activism Chabe would later discover that even children had problems with the disease and needed care.
In 2008 the support group was registered as Tsogang Trust with a fully-fledged board of trustees and executive committee. The trust has since been allocated a plot in Mogoditshane where they have set up a port-a-camp used by women under the support of the trust to produce handicrafts. The centre has capacity to accommodate 2 800 children but is currently idle because there is no development on the plot due to lack of funds. Attempts to secure funding have hit a brick wall, but Chabe remains hopeful that one day the children will have a place to stay under the care of professionals. In the interim she has converted her home into a foster home, providing meals and care for the children. Soon after establishing a foster home she found herself supporting 920 children in Mogoditshane before the number skyrocketed to 1 980. Chabe, a self-confessed God fearing woman, reveals that she currently takes care of 48 children, some of whom wereould seen playing around in the yard on makeshift structures nearby. To avoid stigmatisation in children, she accepts children with different needs including those born to destitute parents, orphans and those whose parents cannot support due ill health.
Chabe explains that they provide foster care to children from as young as a year old to 21 years old. Those in the school going age are enrolled at different private and government schools in and around Gaborone. After attaining the age of 21 they graduate out of foster care. One of those that still enjoy support from Tsogang is Bernard Moyo from Lobatse. He completed a diploma in Refrigeration and Airconditioning at Kanye Brigade develpopment Trust (KBDT) in 2012 before joining the internship programme at a Gaborone based refrigeration company. He waxes lyrical when asked about the support he has enjoyed under the care of Chabe. "I came to mmaChabe after I failed to secure sponsorship to upgrade my senior secondary school results. I did not do well at Lobatse senior Secondary school. She got me sponsorship to attend Gabane Private Secondary school. As long as you are focussed and are determined to achieve what you want she can help you. She is doing a great job. She is still supporting me," says Moyo who recently turned 27.
"Actually we have managed to secure employment for him in Gaborone where he will be starting in January 2015. We want him to improve his life and secure his own home," chips in Chabe, a smile across her face.
Asked how she manages to cook, bathe, do laundry and clean after the children, Chabe says while she does most of the cooking she is supported by other women who volunteer labour on a daily basis. She adds that they have been receiving support from different churches, private companies, schools, different organisations, individuals and other civic organisations. She says the support comes in sponsorships, food baskets, clothing, donations, monetary terms and in kind. She then shows off a heap of bright new bicycles of different sizes, which she says were recently donated by a private company for the children.
Chabe and her group continue to experience other challenges as government officials were not keen on extending support arguing that adults are better off because they could take care of themselves and live responsibly. With the meagre resources at her disposal, Chabe bought a combi to transport patients to and from health facilities for medical attention. She says she had extensive consultation with the then area MP and social workers. The latter discouraged her from keeping children in her home without proper documentation. She has applied and has waited for five years for approval of her application for a foster home. There have been even more challenges in Chabe's work. Her home has been raided and children taken away by social workers. She has even been dragged before courts of law for illegally keeping children in her home and faced allegations that one of the kids had been raped. The charges were later dropped.
To date Chabe has graduated two groups from foster care and is currently taking care of the third cohort of beneficiaries. The children are from all over the country including places like Mookane, Mmaphashalala, Otse-Lephepe. "While I identified some in need others are brought here and still more come on their own after learning of the support we give to children in need," she says.