Sisters of Bon Secours in South Africa
History and Origin
In April 2008, four Bon Secours Sisters, two from Peru and two from Ireland, went to Tzaneen Diocese, Limpopo, South Africa. This was the first Bon Secours international community in South Africa. The sisters went in response to an invitation from Bishop Hugh Slattery MSC, Bishop of Tzaneen Diocese at that time, to take part in the Tzaneen Diocesan response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa.
In the Tzaneen Diocese, the sisters worked with other religious communities as well as with many lay people, in providing medicine and care for people living with HIV/AIDS. The Bon Secours Sisters started a clinic in the Diocese, which opened in June 2008. This was the third clinic funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief (PEPFAR) in the Tzaneen Diocese. From the time it opened until it closed in May 2013, large numbers of patients were treated for HIV/AIDS and related illnesses. When the South African government assumed responsibility to care for its own people, the PEPFAR funding from the USA was discontinued and the clinic closed. This was a positive move for the country, even though the people were sad to see the clinic’s closing.
In 2009, in response to an influx of young, refugee boys from Zimbabwe looking for food and education, the Sisters of Bon Secours established a shelter. This shelter was for the boys who were found homeless, living in the streets or nearby bush land by the parish priest or by the police. These youths were brought to the new shelter where they went to either the parish school or the local government school. The sisters also assisted the boys by teaching them catechism, preparing them for baptism and first communion. They also ministered to them psychologically with support and advice for difficult situations. In April 2013, this shelter was closed, and the boys relocated to a home set up by a group of Christian Churches in the town. This turned out to be a positive move, as this building was purpose built, and the boys could receive registered status.
Currently, the sisters provide needed support for the boys when they have problems. They continue to teach them Religious Education, and bring them to the Catholic Church for Mass or other religious services. Within the community, the sisters continue to provide home visitations and delivery of food parcels, a ministry which existed when they arrived. As well, the sisters serve meals in a local soup kitchen which was opened on the parish church grounds a year ago. This kitchen serves soup and maize to unemployed men and refugees. The number of men coming for food varies from day to day, but not uncommon to reach 45 to 50.
The unemployment rate in South Africa is high at approximately 30%. As refugees continue to come from Zimbabwe, the need for this soup kitchen will grow.