Students and staff from the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Department of Radiography in the Faculty of Health Sciences have set up a project to help abandoned babies in Tshwane. Called Bags of Hope, the project involves collecting items to make up packages to help hospital staff care for these infants.
The project leader, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained how the project came about. “The newborn starter pack project was started in response to the high number of abandoned babies in the Tshwane district’s Pretoria West, Kalafong and Mamelodi Hospitals. These babies are either abandoned at hospitals or in the community in a visible area where they can be found, or they are hidden away in the hope that they do not make it. When the babies are found, they are taken to the nearest district hospital, often presenting with chest infections from being left in the cold. In addition to this, there are mothers who give birth and have absolutely no essentials to take care of them, often leading them to abandon the baby in hospital or when they reach home.”
In cases where X-rays are requested for chest infections, UP’s Radiography Department steps in to interact with the babies. “The department is directly involved with these patients, which presents a great opportunity for staff and students to engage with them and assist where possible,” the project leader added. “The project consists of 20 volunteers who are second- and third-year Radiography students as well as one UP alumni.”
To date, the project has created 36 care packages and distributed them to 16 babies. This would not have been possible without donations from the public. “The project received great interest from the community, which donated an overwhelming number of items,” said the project leader. The packs contain toiletries such as nappies, cream, soap, powder and oil; new and second-hand clothes like bibs, vests and hats; blankets; and toys.
The project leader said that Nelson Mandela’s legacy – which includes helping orphaned and vulnerable children through the Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund – has been an inspiration.
A thorough identification process takes place before a baby is assisted. “The process involves inter-professional collaboration between the hospital’s social worker, the radiography department at the hospital and UP’s Radiography Department,” explained the project leader. “When a baby or family in need has been identified by the social worker, the clinical department is alerted and a qualified radiographer goes with the student to dispatch the pack. The pack is signed for by the social worker or nurse and a register is completed.”
The care packages are extended to various people who are in need of assistance. “The circumstances range from mothers who abandon the baby in the hospital and those who have twins but are unable to take care of both babies, to single, unemployed moms who don’t even have clothes for the child when they leave hospital.”
The project leader said that Nelson Mandela’s legacy – which includes the creation of the Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund, which helps orphaned and vulnerable children, as well as being honoured with the World Children’s Prize – has been an inspiration. “All these accolades speak volumes about his love for children and, more specifically, about his love for children who can’t fend for themselves when they are most vulnerable. This has also been one of the inspirations for the newborn starter pack project. I believe abandoned babies deserve a fighting chance at life and someone to love and care for them despite the circumstances they are born into. The name Bags of Hope suggests that even though it’s temporary assistance, there is hope for another day.”
Some of the students involved in the project shared their thoughts about the initiative. “I have a soft spot for babies,” said final-year Bachelor of Radiography student S’lindokuhle Zulu. “They don’t deserve the hardships they are born into. No baby should be a product of their circumstance. Seeing them in unfavourable states really breaks my heart; this project has allowed me to help and ensure that they have necessities after being born.”
Surita Joubert, a second-year Diagnostic Radiography student, said being part of the project has given her a new perspective and filled her with gratitude for all that she has. “I was fortunate to give two packs of baby goods to a mother with newborn twins. The mother had two kids at home and did not have much for the twins. Being able to give back to the community humbled me and made me feel grateful for everything I have and all of the opportunities I have had in life.”
Final-year Radiography student Deborah Mumbake Chisanga said the appeal of the project for her is seeing the dignity of the babies being restored. “Compassion and empathy are at the core of my motives for helping out in the wonderful initiative. The difference that the project has made is tremendously inspiring as babies in need can be assisted in a dignified manner. It brings me so much joy to be able to make a difference.”
The project is now in its second phase, and the team has received more donations to make more bags. The project leader added that it is important that the project continues as there is a great need for the bags, especially in the Pretoria West area. In the near future, the project is looking to distribute care packages to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital once lockdown restrictions ease.
If you would like to make a donation to the Bags of Hope project, please contact the Department of Radiography’s administrator, Petro Bester, at [email protected].