Wits students lend a helping hand to Hillbrow orphanage

 Batho Bothong, an NGO by Wits students is helping a group of children at Malaika Orphanage with schoolwork, food, clothes, sanitary towels and other necessities.  

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A GROUP of Wits students is offering aid to an orphanage in Hillbrow through their community outreach project, Batho Bothong.

The project helps 75 children, between the ages of two and eighteen from Malaika Orphanage Home with schoolwork through tutorial sessions twice a week and with items such as food, clothes, sanitary towels and stationary.

Batho Bothong volunteers tutor the children in Physical Sciences, Maths, Maths Literacy, Biology and English.  The initiator of the Batho Bothong programme, Khutjo Maganyele, said they also help with homework and other assessments for other modules when the children need assistance.

Malaika orphanage founder Juma Sebichuwu said they have seen great improvement in academic performances of the children ever since Batho Bothong came on board in 2014.

“The results of what they [Batho Bothong] have been doing here are visible to us, to guardians of these children and to them as well.  Their grades have improved a lot,” said Sebichuwu.

Malaika orphan Nondumiso Mlambo, 18, is starting the first of year of her law degree at the University of Johannesburg. She said if it wasn’t for Batho Bothong, she would not have achieved the grades that secured her a place at university.

“The programme really helped us.  We were a group of three girls (doing matric) and we all passed.  If it wasn’t for the project we wouldn’t be where we are right now,” said Mlambo.

They also organise motivational seminars for the children to motivate them.  Maganyele said it is necessary to instil positivity on children who are determined about their education and goals in life.  “The kids are passionate about where they want to go in future.  And they are such a bunch of kids, full of joy and potential,” said Maganyele.

Maganyele said he took a conscious decision to start the project as a result of the struggles he faced when he was in his first year at university as someone from a poor background.

“In my first year, I struggled with my self-image.  I had like three trousers and a few tops to wear.  And I chose to focus on people who are worse off than me,” said Magabyele.  He said he chose Malaika because of the “appalling conditions” he saw at the place.

The project was formed by Maganyele and seven of his Wits friends in 2014 with 15 volunteers at the time.  They started with few kids and he says the number has grown ever since.

More to a mortuary than death

Dull-yellow fluorescent lights and the smell of industrial-strength antiseptic meet you when you enter the mortuary at the very edge of Braamfontein in Johannesburg.

5th year MBBCh students at the Johannesburg Mortuary

THE DEAD DON’T BITE: 5th year MBBCh students at the Johannesburg Mortuary                            Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

A sense of dread, of being in a mortuary, accompanies you when you enter the grey building wedged between Constitutional Hill and the Wits Esselen Residence.

What these experiences don’t prepare you for is the warmth and passion of the Wits medical students you find inside – there to fulfill the requirement that they learn to work with “fresh corpses”.

“A lot of these students see an autopsy for the first time and get turned off,” said Lawrence Hill, research student and entomologist at the Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Service (FPS) medico-legal mortuary in Braamfontein.

Hill explained how the small number of medical students who specialise in forensics end up working as pathologists. Most choose lucrative jobs as anatomical pathologists for private labs.

This leaves state pathologists working in one of the two main mortuaries in the province  Germiston and Johannesburg doing nothing less than 20 autopsies a week, almost double the weekly average.

Hill was frank about the difficulties of dealing with corpses on a daily basis and the kind of effect it can have on you.

“We see everything from [people who were] stabbed to death, jumped off of buildings, car accidents and burns victims who mostly came from informal settlements,” said Hill.

He said counselling was provided to students at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital and they were encouraged to talk in groups about their experiences.

Scary reality

Fifth year MBBCh students, gathered at the mortuary on Wednesday morning for practical classes in dissecting corpses, had varying opinions of the experience:

A student called Trudie said the “scary reality didn’t really hit you” until you were faced with a recently deceased body.

“On Monday we saw a child who’d been hit by a car. It was terrible.” [pullquote align=”right”]”I had never seen a dead body”[/pullquote]

Asked how she coped with seeing death close up, she said: “As students we are not offered any debriefing. All you can do is go home and talk to your friends and family.”

Kirsten Morley-Jepherson said she was “really lucky to have a good support system at home”.

“Once you vent you really feel a lot better”.

Morley-Jepherson said although she had been fascinated by biology and the human body since her school days, she would not consider specialising in forensic pathology:

“I need something where I can have a life.”

Masello Phasha recalled how she was “literally shaking” when she faced a corpse for the first time.

“It was in our 2nd year andI had never seen a dead body. The toes of the cadaver were sticking out and I kept as far away as I could.”

Phasha said Monday was “very different”.

“The child was still fully dressed and still had shoes on,” Phasha said.

Despite this, Phasha said she’d “surprisingly” had no nightmares and she hoped to go into trauma surgery but feared the always-on-call lifestyle would be “too demanding”.

Abigail Keane is a student whose entire family is in the medical field. She said, despite realising “how quickly things can go wrong and how many lives we lose”, it was the daily opportunity of helping people in a tangible way that made it all worth it.

The mortuary serves as the “academic seat” of the Wits division of forensic medicine and pathology. It provides forensic pathology services to the SA Police Service and the Department of Justice and families of the deceased.  This is over and above its teaching and research responsibilities at the university’s Faculty of Health Sciences.