For many, the idea of walking barefoot along kilometres of rough dirt road day after day to get an education, is unthinkable. Yet a young, dedicated nurse who is all too familiar with the experience is doing what she can to change this harsh reality for hundreds of learners, helping them to keep going to school.
Sr Zinhle Ndlovu, a 29-year-old registered nurse working in the medical intensive care unit (MICU) at Netcare Kingsway Hospital, Amanzimtoti, used her own savings to establish the Sinomusa Sonke Foundation in 2018, with the aim of helping to get school shoes to learners back home.
“I grew up in rural Nkandla as the firstborn daughter of a polygamous family. My grandfather had three wives and 34 children, and many more grandchildren. He was the only provider in our family, so it was not an easy start in life,” says Sr Ndlovu.
“Nevertheless, we were fortunate enough to go to school although this meant crossing rivers and walking many kilometres along rough gravel roads without shoes, and on an empty stomach much of the time. It was difficult to find the motivation to go again the next day, and all the days that followed – knowing that it would be like this each time – in order to get an education.”
Sr Ndlovu notes that there are thousands of children who find it difficult to overcome the physical challenges of getting to school and many who are disheartened by the experience. “At my old school that we have been involved with – Mvuzane Primary School in Eshowe – there are around 450 learners, most of whom are in desperate need, and this is just one school,” she says.
Sr Ndlovu began the foundation with the help of her brother, Smanga Mhlongo, who is a teaching assistant and helps with collections and deliveries of donations, as well as friends and colleagues who have been involved with some of the administration and spreading the word while reaching into their own pockets to contribute.
“With the help of friends, colleagues, teachers and members of the community we have managed to provide around 100 pairs of shoes annually as well as other essential items such as soap, bath towels and sanitary pads. With these donations we are able to give learners a much needed helping hand and a sense of dignity,” she says.
“I am fortunate enough to work in a very community minded environment – many of my wonderful colleagues and the doctors we work with have become supporters of this cause. Even their children have been donating items they no longer use.
“We are working towards seeing the number of contributors increase and are hoping to take the work of the foundation further into other schools in KwaZulu-Natal and beyond. I am so grateful to my Netcare family as well as my own family and friends – their ongoing encouragement gives me energy to keep fighting for these kids.”
While the donations make a significant difference in the lives of the young recipients, Sr Ndlovu hopes that her story also serves to inspire children living in adversity. “Many young people growing up in rural areas wonder if there is any hope for the future, but I am living proof that if you persevere you can achieve your goals and one day be able to help uplift others as well,” she adds.
Sr Ndlovu explains that in simple English, Sinomusa Sonke means ‘we are all kind and generous’. The name is a combination of her late mother’s name and that of her only daughter. She says that strong women have been an inspiration all her life, recalling that as a young girl growing up her dream was to train as a nurse, as her grandmother had done before her, and after completing her matric she went on to pursue this dream.
“My grandmother had been a nurse in her younger years and she passed the torch to me. When I am with my patients I am in my happy place. No matter what else may be going on in my life, when I see patients recovering well enough to go home or transition to the general ward it fills me with joy.
“During the fight against COVID-19 I became known for being rather spirited, telling my patients: ‘You have to keep fighting for your family, you must go home’. I know it is difficult for them being sick and away from their families, so it is important to me that they receive personal attention and that they feel cared for and at home with us,” she says.
According to Sr Charrisa Haripersad, unit manager at Netcare Kingsway Hospital’s MICU, Sr Ndlovu had started out as an agency nurse within the unit, and over time proved herself as a highly valuable member of the team. “When a permanent post opened up, we were most happy to welcome Zinhle to the team as a permanent Netcare employee.
“Part of a nurse’s job is to guide a patient and their family through difficult situations, even more so in a MICU setting, and Zinhle does this with real kind heartedness. Her team values her hard work, dedication and ability to remain calm, even in trying situations such as the unrest that took place in 2021 when Zinhle risked her own safety to make her way to work, and quietly got on with caring for patients.
“On a personal note, Zinhle cares about social justice and improving the health and lives of others, which I am sure is why she embarked upon this commendable project. We are certainly very proud to have her on our team,” says Sr Haripersad.
Annatjie Demetriou, general manager of Netcare Kingsway Hospital, comments that having individuals like Sr Ndlovu as part of the Netcare family is what makes all the difference when it comes to providing the quality of care for which the group is known.
“Great nursing is about more than knowledge and practical skills – it is about a genuine passion for caring for others and actively making a meaningful difference in their lives wherever possible. Sr Ndlovu is a shining example of just that and we are fortunate to have her at our facility and so many other nurses like her in our Netcare family,” concludes Demetriou.
The Sinomusa Sonke Foundation is a registered NPO (2021/162235/08). Individuals interested in assisting with the initiative can contact Sr Ndlovu on 072 067 5560. The foundation also accepts donations of preloved and non-perishable food items which will be supplied to families in need. With winter around the corner, they are keen to collect warmer clothes and blankets. Donations of reading books would also be highly appreciated as one of Sinomusa Sonke’s aims is to constantly strive to enrich the minds of generations to come.
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