We caught up with Nonnie (Nonhlanhla) Ngema, a field worker for Reach for a Dream, an NGO that encourages children to use their dreams to fight life-threatening illnesses.
How did you end up being a fieldworker at Reach For A Dream?
I studied Social Work, and needed a place where I could do my practical. This led me to an organisation called Big Shoes, which specialized in palliative care. When this closed down, one of the doctors who had worked with Big Shoes invited me to join the team at Lambano Sanctuary, which is a care and paediatric hospice facility for children with life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses. It was while working here that I came into contact with Reach for a Dream, as we asked them to fulfil the dreams for some of the children at Lambano Sanctuary. I loved what Reach for a Dream did, so I joined them on a voluntary basis, and worked at Lambano Sanctuary in the week, and volunteered over the weekend. After a year of volunteering, Reach for a Dream invited me to join them on a permanent basis, and that was two years ago.
How does Reach For A Dream work?
We work on referrals from doctors, nurses and any other people who know children between the ages of 3 and 18 years with life-threatening illnesses. Once I have found the child through referrals, I visit the child, consult everyone involved, and do an assessment. A child is asked to submit three options for dreams they would like to have fulfilled by Reach for a Dream. We then do our best to fulfil one of these dreams. Once a dream has been fulfilled there are also follow-up events: Queen for a Day for girls, and Captain Courage for boys. We also host Camp Sunshine, where children facing similar medical challenges get to spend time together outdoors.
Tell us about a dream that moved you most
One of the dreamers was an 8-year old girl who was HIV positive. She had a simple wish: to have her own bed. She had been in hospital for a while, so we organised to have her discharged for a day, and threw a party at her house, with cake and pizza. All her friends came to celebrate with her. We then took her to her room, and waiting for her was a brand new bed, with Hello Kitty bedding. She was overjoyed. She had to go back to the hospital on that day, as she was too ill to stay at home overnight. The next day, she passed away.
You are exposed to painful moments in many children’s lives – how do you stay strong?
I see it as getting paid to have fun with kids, and to give them experiences that help take their minds off the hard time that they’re having. I also find it easier to not know every child’s story and background in detail – I’m there to have fun with them in the moment.
Do you have any advice for us?
See kids with life-threatening diseases for who they are, not for their illness. You won’t be able to love them fully if in your mind, you define them by their illness.
What would you say to someone wanting a career in social work?
You need to have passion and patience – and to love people. It’s definitely a calling. This job isn’t as easy as it seems – it’s hectic emotionally. You always have to see the positive side – tonight, I will go to sleep knowing that a child and his/her family were made happy.
To support this amazing organisation, visit their project here.