The Door of Hope has remained open during thenational lockdown.

Thirty-six-year-old Laura Thomas volunteers at the Door of Hope in Johannesburg. The Door of Hope is a faith-based organisation that works with abandoned and destitute children. Thomas has been a caregiver in the organisation since September 2017 after she was inspired by a trip to Swaziland where she visited Project Canaan, a children’s home.

Despite having a two-year association degree in child development which enabled her to work in various hospitals and day cares in the United States where she had lived, Thomas has maintained a passion to work in children’s orphanages. 

Thomas has worked in various parts of Door of Hope allowing her to learn more about child development and its different stages. The Door of Hope has remained open during the lockdown as an essential service that takes care of children. Since  Thomas started working at the Door of Hope, her passion for children has enabled her to fulfill her dreams through the love of her work despite the challenges that come with it.

As told to Zikhona Klaas.

I have no children of my own and I knew a long time ago I may never be able to, but these babies have become my own. I care for them as I would my own until they go to their forever families.

The small baby department, (with babies between new-born age and up to four months old), was by far my favourite place to work. But now I am working with toddlers who are almost two years old. Having to take care of small babies is hard work but very fulfilling.

Babies require a lot more special care that each of us is trained to do. To work with different babies requires different skills, as some need medication and others need to be in a Kangaroo hold because they are tiny. We get babies as small as 1.6 kg and part of their care is helping them to regulate and just know they are not alone. Skin to skin contact is important when they are tiny, and while we may not be directly skin to skin, they are wrapped on us close enough to hear our heartbeat. I have had an opportunity to do this several times and it is a precious memory to have.

I am most definitely attached to the children here as out of the fifteen toddlers we have, I have personally cared for twelve of them from the small baby department all the way to the toddler department. I remember all their little quirks from when they were small up to now. I usually remember their birthdays, and there are always a
few in each group that you simply get attached to because either we choose them, or they choose us.

I am inspired by the aunties and the bonds we each make with the children. We are the only ones these children know. They know who their ‘mommies’ are, we bond with them and get to see their first smiles, they babble at us and seek us as they get old enough to know more. The hardest challenge I once faced was when taking one
of our sick babies to hospital, which has been a few times for me and watching them struggle, but the best part is seeing them come back home because we knew it was the best decision. We see them thrive after that.

A caregiver at the Door of Hope carrying one of the babies. Photo: Provided.

I personally have a strained relationship with my family and I have a sense of what it is like to not feel loved, so
I know how incredibly important it is to love these children individually.

We are open as far as working during the lockdown. We are considered essential. Our babies and children must have twenty-four-hour care. Therefore, we work seven days a week, rotating shifts. Our shifts are generally [from] 7 am to 6 pm for three days and with two days off. I start my morning by getting the daily reports for each baby so that I can know how they are doing. Then we [the staff] bathe all of them, feed them [the children] their bottles by 8 am.

They [the children] are then placed to sleep at 9am daily as part of their routines. This applies to the afternoons until bedtime at 5pm in the evening. The same applies to the night shifts where we give reports on how their day went.

We have a system called Primary Caregiving in which each of us is responsible to take care of about two to four babies each per day. We are not only responsible for daily care but also making sure they are getting attention and their basic needs are met. We meet the children’s physical and emotional needs by doing stimulations, music, movements and cuddling. However, schedules can vary depending on babies who sometimes are preemies [premature] which makes our schedule different.

As for the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, we had already placed a ban on visitors just to cut down on the germs that come in with anyone and that will remain in place throughout the winter. The only real difficulties overall are the stress that comes from the staff and the never-ending concern not only for the children but also for our own families.

However, we work together as a team in our departments. Despite what is going on in the world around them, we do our best to get them up to date on their vaccines from the clinics, we have a doctor that sees
them regularly and we have therapists that partner with us as well. None of what I have been able to be a part of would be possible without the leaders that gave their best day in and day out. I am thankful God has placed me here in such a time as this.

This would also not be possible if it was not for the people who donate to us, from monetary donations to supplying the things for the babies so staff can be available to the babies.

FEATURED IMAGE: Toddlers at the Door of Hope. Photo: Provided.