A place of hope

03 October 2005

A suite of dilapitated rooms at Groote Schuur Hospital has been transformed into a friendly space where mothers with HIV can meet and counsel other women who are newly diagnosed, thanks to the efforts of a group of fine-art students from Michaelis.

The third-year students tackled the project as part of a new social-responsibility elective, initiated by Prof Pippa Skotnes, and supervised by research associate Gwen van Embden.

The 10 students initially planned to design new crafting products for the Mothers to Mothers programme, but during their investigations stumbled across an even greater need at Groote Schuur Hospital. The programme, which offers women with HIV counselling and emotional support in conjunction with antiretroviral therapy, was urgently in need of a meeting space for participants in a post-natal clinic.

At the official "room wetting", programme developer Dr Mitch Besser explained that while the hospital had always been welcoming, they had never quite had a permanent home. Then the hospital came up with a space, but it was in serious need of a face-lift. It consisted of three gutted backrooms with two broken toilets.

The students immediately saw the potential, and rolling up their sleeves, went to work creating a kitchen, fixing the toilets, painting, decorating and laying carpets to create a friendly space for counselling sessions.

With the help of donors such as Albert Carpets, Stark Ayres and Penny Pinchers, the students managed to create a place (in Dr Besser's words) where the mothers could find "peace and support" in on often harsh world.

Speaking on behalf of the students, Siona O'Connell said: "While this room may not be the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel, embedded in every brush stroke, carpet tile and curtain stitch are our hopes that this space is one where each of the moms and mentors will take those first tentative steps to imagining an unfettered future - that it becomes a room of 'what ifs and maybes and perhapses'.

"That vision was the pivotal force in completing the task. Against adversity and all sorts of struggles, we imagined the moms and their babies, and we realised that as a group, who could and did rely on each other, that the seemingly insurmountable was possible indeed."

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