In Metsimotlhabe, a village north of the capital of Gaborone, Botswana, Sisters Sunila Erumangalathu and Vinaya Chalil administer a one-of-kind hospice for the sick called Pabalelong. It means a place of love and care.
Counseling, physical, spiritual, respite, and terminal care are what the hospice provides.
A short walk from the Sisters’ home, leads down a dirt road where a few street vendors sell snacks to passing school children. A man makes beautiful furniture from discarded wood pallets. This path brings you to the doorsteps of Pabalelong.
Inside the hospice, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCNs) make sure patients receive the love and care they need to regain their strength. The Sisters are present everyday at 7 a.m. to the staff and hospice patients. They never miss a day. They hold hands with patients, share laughs, and exchange smiles as they walk the floor. Spirits are high among the patients and staff.
Outside of the room for prayer and meditation, the daughter of a former patient recalls the care her mother received. “As her health got worse, there was a time that I could barely stand seeing my mother in pain,” she reflects. “With the Sisters and the staff here, I was relieved. She died a dignified death because of the support here.”
Sister Vinaya drives down a dirt road to check on one of her patients that is recovering. The patient, Setshego, is working in her garden amongst the roaming chickens, her return to health a miracle of sorts. Setshego smiles when she sees Sister Vinaya.
When she first became ill, Setshego didn’t know what was wrong and she had a hard time getting answers, doctors finally diagnosed her with TB meningitis of the spine. Completely paralyzed, she developed a large pressure sore on her sacral region. Doctors referred her to Pabalelong for terminal care.
The situation was dire. Setshego was weak, and needed intensive care. “Everything was painful, I didn’t know where it was coming from. I was just lost,” says Setshego.
At first she didn’t want to see the Sisters. In a state of pain and out of her mind, she didn’t recognize the help and support they were giving her. “I thought they wanted to kill me or something,” she recalls.
The medication would make her nauseous. The Sisters were very patient with her, they crushed her tablets to make it easier for her to swallow. They checked in on her family to make sure everyone at home was doing well.
Setshego’s son, Kabombosoa, took care of the family. He spoke of how he would hold his mother in his arms to try to comfort her. “I was doing everything I could for her, cooking for her, and washing her clothes,” he says.
During her six-month stay at the hospice, Setshego began to heal. She opened herself up to Sisters Vinaya and Sunila. “I realized all these Sisters want for me is to get better. All they wanted is life for me, the love they have given – I am so appreciative of it,” she shares. “Right now I am able to be at home because of the Sisters, and because of the hospice.”
Gradually there was improvement, and when she was finally discharged, she was able to walk with a cane. “Right now I am very happy she is healed. She can even walk again. You can see her strength is increasing bit by bit. The hospice was taking care of us. They were even calling me, to make sure she was taken care of, and we had what she needed,” notes Kabombosoa.
As Setshego continues to grow stronger, Sister Vinaya checks on her, “Now she is back on her feet, gardening, working in the field, and she is getting back to a normal life.”
Walking down the halls of the hospice you can see the profound love and support the Sisters and staff are providing to those in need in Botswana. “It has been a great ministry, by the blessing of God,” says Sister Sunila.
Back at Setshego’s home, Sister Vinaya readies herself for her next home visit and says goodbye to the family. Sethshego holds Sister Vinaya’s hand and tells her in Setswana, “sala sentle.” Fitting words from a woman, who through God’s compassionate grace, has come far in her recovery. The saying, an endearing one, means “stay well.”
Story originally published on the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth website. Happy National Catholic Sisters Week to Sisters Sunila Erumangalathu & Vinaya Chalil!