‘Big Dream’ Becomes Reality, to Care for Children With Cancer

A state-of-the-art children’s cancer ward funded by Islamic Relief donors is now in service in South Africa’s new Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital. The historic milestone was marked with a grand opening ceremony Dec. 2 full of festivities only fitting to celebrate the coming to life of an idea that Mandela imagined over a decade ago.

The Islamic Relief family — including Islamic Relief USA — was among the hospital’s top supporters, contributing a total of almost $8 million to fully fund the oncology ward. Islamic Relief was honored at the ceremony alongside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation.

“I remember the head of Islamic Relief, when he first came to our offices, and literally on a map he says, ‘This is where I want us to be.’ And it was the oncology unit,” said Sibongile Mkhabela, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust.

Forty percent of children with cancer in South Africa, and 80% in all of Africa, have no access to specialized treatment. The Islamic Relief oncology ward will use cutting-edge technology to conduct medical research, facilitate training and give sick children from all over Africa the care they need.

“It is wonderful to see that the world has [come] together to honor the memory of Nelson Mandela in the children’s hospital, and we are very honored to be able to participate,” Islamic Relief USA CEO Anwer Khan said. “We believe this is a sadaqah jariyah.”

Dignitaries came from all over the world to be part of the special occasion and to listen to inaugural remarks from the project’s curators, including Mandela’s widow Graca Machel. Dance troupes and musical performers of all ages took the stage in colorful displays of culture and tradition. Playful illustrations of children decorated the outdoor event pavilion, and cutouts of clouds hung and twirled from the ceiling. More than just a hospital, the ceremony seemed to welcome the brightness of the future.

The hospital boasts 200 beds and seven divisions of pediatric subspecialties. It will provide much needed access to health care in a country that loses one out of 10 children every year to preventable or treatable diseases. The hospital will double as a center for research and training. Children can receive free high-quality care, regardless of their social or economic status.

The amount of care that went into the hospital’s design goes beyond an impressive number of beds and outstanding technological additions. Around every corner, patients will be greeted with bright designs and inviting murals — so much so that they may even forget that they are patients for a little while. The hospital’s designers took “child-friendly” to a new level: From an outdoor play garden to an exam room decorated as a nighttime safari, every lovingly imagined detail helps to soften the intimidating edges of medical equipment and machines.

“Today’s pretty emotional and confusing for me because I was there with Madiba when it started, and he left me with his wife to complete a really big dream,” Mkhabela told IRUSA staff. “And having done so, I can only be overwhelmed and humbled by the number of people who believed in what they could easily have dismissed as the ramblings of an old man.”

For Mkhabela and the other pioneers of this project, the day was a reminder of the hope and possibility that Nelson Mandela always believed in for his country. “He gave us a huge challenge,” she said. “We never thought it was going to be possible. And his words came true: ‘It always seems impossible until it is done.’”

For more information about the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, visit www.nelsonmandelachildrenshospital.org

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Chancey is the Editor-in-Chief for ReliefLab and a Content Creator at Islamic Relief USA. We would love to feature your voice on the blog – send us a message at relieflab@irusa.org.