Ms Siphokazi Lamla has decided to refocus her energy and skills back in to her community by helping those around her with the training she has received through SPF.
Ms Siphokazi Lamla shares the story of how her SPF training helped a pregnant woman safely deliver her baby in Ngqeleni.
When it counted, Siphokazi harnessed all of her theory and put it into practice.
“She began to panic with each contraction,” says Siphokazi Lamla, a Community Healthcare Worker at the Nkumandeni Clinic in Ngqeleni, who works on the Child Survival and Development programme that is funded by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. “I realised how important it was that she remain calm.”
Siphokazi’s eyes widen as she tells us the birth story of a first-time mother from her village, and how it is that she came to be this young mom’s comfort and guide during her labour.
“It was a normal Sunday morning, and I was at home,” explains Siphokazi. “I heard shouting and went outside to find a lady begging me to quickly go to her home, where her daughter-in-law was in labour. This was one of my mother’s from the Mentor Mom Support Group that I ran, and although she was in her ninth month of pregnancy, her husband was in Johannesburg.” Siphokazi gestures in the direction of her nearby village, where she hurried from her house to the young woman’s in-laws. Dressed smartly in her health worker uniform – a silver jacket proudly displaying her name and the Child Survival and Development emblem – Siphokazi had never before this moment seen a woman give birth.
“I’m an only child!” she laughs. “Unlike other women growing up in this area, I hadn’t even helped my mom with other kids when I was small.” However, lucky for the expectant mom in question, Siphokazi’s training as a community healthcare worker in the Child Survival and Development programme had prepared her for exactly this moment. With training in HCT, PMTCT and counselling (among other things) Siphokazi also runs mentor mom groups in her village, which empower expectant and experienced mothers with information about their bodies, their children, and the importance of nutrition and growth monitoring.
When it counted, Siphokazi harnessed all of her theory and put it into practice.
“The mom was so happy to see me,” she says. “When I arrived she seemed to relax a little. She was only twenty years old, you see. That’s young. And I empathised for her.” Siphokazi acted fast: calling the ambulance and making sure that her mentee mom had everything she needed.
“I first called the ambulance at 9.30 in the morning. An hour later and they still hadn’t arrived. I kept the mom calm, distracting her with talk about TV shows and music, asking about her life, her husband, anything to take her mind off of her pain. When I phoned the ambulance again, I was told that there was only one car available that day and we would just have to wait.” Siphokazi describes how she took deep breaths. That a cold wave of panic washed over her. Although she herself was nervous, she knew that in order to keep her mentee mom relaxed, she had to gather herself.
“I was really scared while she was in labour,” she says, brutally honest about how overwhelming childbirth suddenly became. “But I remembered my training. I stayed cool. ‘Remember to breathe. Remember to breathe’ I kept repeating, and honestly, if this had happened before SPF trained me, I would have been running around like a headless chicken.” We all burst into laughter. “But with the knowledge I had, I felt prepared to handle this. I had to be strong for the mother.”
Two hours passed. The ambulance was nowhere to be seen.
Siphokazi had to make a decision.
“I helped her back to my house,” she says, explaining that her house is on the road and would be easier for the ambulance to find, when it eventually did arrive. “I told her to take deep breaths and settled her in my bedroom. We spoke about everything from TV to breastfeeding. ‘Did you watch this show?’ I’d ask, trying to distract her. Each time she had a bad contraction I’d talk her through the pain, encouraging her to breathe into her labour. When each contraction passed she lay back and I told her jokes and we spoke about what her baby might look like. Hours and hours went by, on and on and on.” Siphokazi phoned the ambulance again. This time, she was told that she would have to be patient, as there was only one vehicle available.
“I stayed with her for hours,” she said. “At 1pm, three and a half hours after I had called them, the ambulance arrived.” By this stage, the mom was well into active labour, and felt immense relief knowing that she would soon be at the hospital.
“During our mentor mom group meetings, I had introduced the concept of exclusive breastfeeding to this mom, as I do to all my other moms, and explained its importance. That it was the best possible source of nutrition for her baby, that she would bond closer to her child as a result, and that it was natural, and easier than using formula.” Thanks to this and similar topics covered by Siphokazi during her weekly meetings, the young mom still breastfeeds to this day.
“She delivered a healthy baby boy,” Siphokazi said, smiling broadly. When asked if she has kept tabs on the new mom, Siphokazi appears shocked that it’s even a question. “Of course! I keep on calling her, and I visit once a week to see how she is doing. She hasn’t had any complaints as yet.” Siphokazi makes sure that mom is coping both emotionally and physically. “I ask her how the breastfeeding is going, and luckily, the nurses at the hospital showed her how to nurse. She insisted they do, especially because I told her and her group about exclusive breastfeeding so she knew it was important.”
Prior to her current position, Siphokazi worked in retail, reception and call centres in bustling city centres. “But it’s to Nkumandeni I’ve returned,” she chuckles. “I’ve worked in retail, reception and call centres, but working for the Child Survival and Development Programme is my calling.” Like other Community Healthcare Workers employed by the programme, Siphokazi works two days a week at the clinic – counselling patients, doing HCT and growth monitoring – and the remaining three days in her village. There are vast distances between the clinic and the villages, punctuated by rolling hills and dirt roads that are near-impossible to walk when it’s raining. Despite this, Siphokazi’s face lights up when she talks about her job.
“One of the first people I helped in my work here was a very young mother who has two children. They’re babies: one and two years old respectively, which is a very tight gap. On my home visits I came across this mom and realised how difficult it is for her to attend clinic: by the time she has washed and fed each child it is almost too late to make the trek to the clinic. When we first met, she had no time for house work as well as her kids. By the time she herself was dressed it was too late to leave. The kids were malnourished, reaching only orange on the MUAC tape, and missed their measles vaccinations. I realised that the best thing I could do to support her would be to offer practical help. So, I regularly visit her on her clinic dates, help her clean her house, watch the babies so she can get dressed, and then carry one child so that she can carry the other. That way, she is able to get her and her children to the clinic in time. Now the kids have caught up on their immunisations, and they’re well on their way to reaching green status on the MUAC tape.”
Siphokazi’s passion and compassion for young children echoes the love and altruism that is at the very heart of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Hers, like that of other community health workers’ in the Child Survival and Development Programme, is a special kind of empathy. A singular desire to change the lives of those around her.
“It’s honestly been a life changing experience,” Siphokazi agrees. “It’s more personal. I get to deal with people on a one on one level, and it feels good to know that I helped someone.”