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Mandela Fund plans state-of-art children’s hospital

Since its creation in 1995, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (NMCF) has extended its reach from South Africa to many other countries on the African continent.

It also has grown from having a single national headquarters in South Africa to having affiliate offices in Canada, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and the U.S. Now the grantmaking organization — founded one year after its namesake was elected to serve as South Africa's first post-apartheid president — is planning to build a state-of-the-art children's hospital.

In late 2010 the fund's board of trustees appointed Mkhabela, then longtime CEO for the NMCF, to a two-year term as CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital Trust, the fiscal arm for the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital.

(Programs Director Moipone Buda-Ramatlo was appointed acting CEO for NMCF.)

Previously, the fund has supported nonprofit organizations that deliver services to children and youth, with special emphasis on orphans and vulnerable children, including those with disabilities and children infected or affected by HIV and AIDS.

Support has been provided in areas such as child safety and protection, pre-school readiness, youth leadership development, family and community support systems and training of caregivers to understand the holistic needs of children (mental, emotional, social, physical, spiritual and psycho-social).

The hospital project, Mkhabela says, is a way for the NMCF to make a bold advocacy statement: "Children are not little adults," she said, explaining that their health care needs are different.

Therefore, the hospital will be equipped with neonatal ICUs, and pediatric specialists in surgery, cardiovascular, oncology, neurology and other treatment areas.

Medical professionals and the media have proclaimed a "health care crisis" in the country, with 48 deaths annually per 1,000 births for children age 1 and younger in South Africa, according to the latest UNICEF statistics. The infant mortality rate in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa is worse at 157 per 1,000 live births. By comparison, UNICEF's statistics for the same age group show the U.S.'s death rate at seven per 1,000 births and Singapore's, the world's lowest, at two per 1,000 births.

The new hospital will be the country's second children's hospital. There is one in Cape Town. By comparison, Australia, with less than half of South Africa's population of 49.9 million people, has 19 children's hospitals.

The hospital, designed to be a state-of-the-art facility, will be built in the Gauteng province on the nearly 1,000-acre campus of the University of Witwatersrand, which has operated a medical school since 1919. Gauteng is the nation's most densely populated province, with Johannesburg as its capital city. The province serves as the economic and transportation hub for the country and also the entire southern African region.

Thus far, $14.3 million has been raised for the hospital through behind-the-scenes efforts, but project leaders are preparing to launch a mid-2011 capital campaign that will reach out to donors around the world to raise the remainder of the $200 million needed for the project, say fund staff. Construction is expected to begin in the last quarter of 2011, with completion scheduled for early 2013.

"A children's hospital will be a credible demonstration of the commitment of African leaders to place the rights of children at the forefront," Mandela said in a previously prepared statement.

For Mkhabela, herself a freedom fighter imprisoned on sedition charges for three years during the apartheid era, the hospital is a "concrete expression of Mandela's legacy."

From the time she started working at the NMCF, first as programs director in 1999 and then as CEO in 2001, Mkhabela has helped the organization increase its endowment to about $70 million, making it one of the nation's largest indigenous funders.

During her tenure, she also has deepened her respect for Mandela, along with her understanding of children's needs.

"The agenda of supporting vulnerable children is often very low in its expectations and very low in what it delivers for the child," Mkhabela said.

"It could be an agenda that says, 'We have fed the children.' So what? It could be an agenda that says, 'We have clothed the children.' So what?

"The children in whose lives we are intervening are the children who must be enabled to lead our industries tomorrow. They must be enabled to lead our spiritual institutions tomorrow, so we must build their inner selves as well."

While she is recognized nationally as a champion for children, Mkhabela also is seen as a leader in South Africa's broader civil society sector. She knows the sector well because she spent five years forging partnerships between civil society organizations (CSOs) and the national government when she was director of programs and projects in the office of then deputy president, Thabo Mbeki. He was second in command during Mandela's presidency before being elected to lead the country after Mandela left office in 1999.

The nation faces many challenges, Mkhabela says, such as racism and xenophobia, an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, dysfunctional health and education systems, inadequate housing and high unemployment. To successfully address these entrenched issues, she says, CSOs need to pull South Africans together again as they did during the nation's struggle to end the apartheid system.

"Civil society organizations face the daunting task of making members of society, government and business more responsive to the critical needs of our society," she said. "It is about caring beyond our own personal concerns. It is about being involved and engaged."

When Mkhabela looks to the future, she sees the NMCF as the "nucleus" for a children's rights movement in her home country and also the southern region of the African continent.

For Mkhabela, the goal is not too lofty. She saw firsthand what happened when family, friends, neighbors and even strangers pulled together to topple a racist regime. And she vividly remembers the February day in 1990 when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison — a free man after 27 years behind bars.

"If there is one lesson pre-1990 South Africa has taught us, it is that leadership is not only the business of leaders, but also of the led."

(Note: This report is provided as a service to our readers and a service to the group or individual mentioned in the release. Usually, only minor editing is done. The group or individual is responsible for all information provided.)

 

 

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