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NMCH Groundbreaking Anniversary

In honour of the start of construction of what is now an impressive hospital building in Parktown, Johannesburg, we asked a few members of our staff to give us their memories on the road that lead to the construction and completion of Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital.

Meet Pat Van Der Merwe (PvdM), NMCH Trust Manager and a key
individual in the planning and processes of NMCH; Ncedi Stemela (NS), Programme Manager: National Skills Fund Grant;
Nomvula Maswangayi (SN), Major Donor Manager before construction, and part of Stakeholders Engagement Task Team at NMCH; and Vuyo Lutseke (VL), Communications Manager.

In a sentence, please describe how you felt at the beginning of construction of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital.

After almost 10 years’ worth of planning and preparation, all of the board’s conditions to the start of construction had been met – Madiba’s dream was about to become a reality. – PvdM

I started working with the hospital project in 2006, representing nursing. In 2014, when construction of the hospital began, the feeling was one of ‘Finally, a dream come true’. You see, we had been in consultation with various stakeholders for eight years before any action would take place. People were starting to have doubts and asking questions such as “Are you still talking?” “Where is the hospital?” We all felt our reputations were at risk if the public didn’t ever get to see the hospital materialise after all the promises made.The construction then came in as a relief to all of us working within the project and worked well to restore our reputations. The community started having high expectations for the children’s center that would make a difference to the lives of many sick children from SA and beyond. – NS

It was the beginning of a better future for our children. – NM.

I oversaw the management of the groundbreaking event that was held a month earlier – but all that was a blur and an incredible amount of excitement and stress! So when the actual start of construction happened in April, I was able to take it all in. My first memory was one of disbelief – disbelief that after years of planning and fundraising, it was actually happening. Also, I have never been so excited to see bulldozers, excavators, and graders in my entire life! And, yes, tears were shed. – VL

Fast forward to four years later. Please tell us how you feel about the vision finally coming to life?

After the euphoria of completing the construction, equipping and commissioning of the hospital, no one could have anticipated the enormous challenges to be overcome to ensure the timeous start of operations at NMCH. The challenges were huge and at times seemed insurmountable. NMCH Trust, as an NGO created by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, had no experience whatsoever in running a hospital – much less a specialist tertiary academic referral facility. The appointment of the CEO of NMCH, Dr Mandisa Maholwana, and in turn, her executive team, saw the building of a formidable, experienced team who dealt with each challenge systematically and methodically and who, working alongside key stakeholders and supporters, saw the start of the treatment of outpatients in June 2017 and the admission of our first patients in February 2018 – proof that the vision had been realised. – PvDM

I feel that the legacy of Madiba is finally being realised. I also feel that the NMCF and NMCH Trust CEO, Bongi Mkhabela’s, tireless efforts of producing a second children’s hospital in this country should be well applauded. – NS.

I get a huge sense of fulfillment. When we started, we had hope but we also had doubts about whether this project would work because of the lack of funds. I get a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment from an individual point of view. From the team’s point of view, I get a sense of anxiety because we managed to get to where we are now but we are also wondering, is this sustainable? Especially in this current situation where both the ‘Mandela’s’ are gone and considering that this is their legacy, what if, as time goes on, people lose interest? That is what brings about anxiety. – NM.

Seeing this dream come to life is indescribable. To think that a few years ago we would come to an empty site and imagine what could be… Now not only do we have a building, but actual patients coming to the hospital to get the healing that they need, and staff to help them in this healing journey. – VL

What was your role at the time and what did it entail? 

My role at the time was to oversee nursing needs in preparation for the hospital.

That encompassed:

Scientifically calculating the envisaged nursing component for the hospital.

Setting up a nursing organogram for the hospital.

Estimating nursing numbers for the envisaged functional units.

Pre-upskilling of nurses for the various specialty units.

Road shows to various nursing training institutions to understand nursing training capacity for each.

Fundraising for the nursing training (upskilling) and helping with the financial administration of the nursing training grant that was received.

Liaison with nursing training institutions for effecting of nursing training.

Calculating nursing training budgets for various nursing training institutions, etc. – NS

To help the CEO and to raise funds, working closely with the CEO to concentrate on the major donors and high network individuals. I was tasked with requesting funding for the hospital, specifically from corporates locally and in the Middle East. We made sure that our donors were recognised, which is very important, especially the local ones who’ve been with us from the beginning. That is what my role entailed at the time. – NM

My official title was Media & Communications Officer, and I oversaw all communications matters (as well as PR and events) in support of the fundraising and construction of NMCH. I also managed the public fundraising campaign on behalf of NMCH. But really, we were such a small team that you did whatever you needed to do to make sure we reach the goal. – VL

Please describe your involvement and contribution towards the hospital with our fans.

With over seven years here, I have been lucky to see the hospital grow from concept to construction to opening. My contribution changed with each stage, depending on what was required of us. Communications played such a key role in fundraising, raising awareness and stakeholder relations globally. Overall, I would say I was part of changing the landscape of paediatric care in Southern Africa, and magnifying issues around the healthcare needs of African children. – VL