She was sitting there on a battered sofa in her tiny shack, a strikingly beautiful young African woman in a remote rural village in the north-eastern part of South Africa. The room was poorly lit and yet her face was beautiful. Nyeleti greeted us with a radiant smile, but as she turned her head slightly, one side of her face was terribly scarred by shingles, a complication of her illness. Nyeleti was in the advanced stages of AIDS and she was dying alone.
We were there with our trainees whom we had taught the Dying At Home program. In this time of AIDS, our program faced head-on the devastating fear of HIV/AIDS leaving people like Nyeleti to die alone. Against all the misgivings of the success of our program, the culture of fear changed in that home and many others throughout Limpopo district where we taught.
Abandoned by her mother out of fear, Nyeleti’s aunty came to look after her and that meant her four children could be brought home. Nyeleti could once again be their mum and they could be with her to help care for her in the remaining time she had.
With a simple but meaningful incentive of women knitting together, neighbours dared to ignore the culture of fear and came together to give support to the family which is one of the principal teachings of the Dying At Home Program. This tiny home, filled with family, became a home of loving care. Nyeleti’s impending death was a catalyst for change. This demonstrated that participation in the Dying At Home program could win over fear by people’s inherent longing to be bonded as the transformation occurred, to a culture of care and compassion.