Friday, February 6, 2009

Waiting and Wandering at Welfare...

Things in South Africa are very different. I mean, everything here is DIFFERENT. The culture, the people, the climate, the food, the prices, the relationships, the education system, the poverty, the healthcare, and now, add to the the list the "welfare" system. Welfare to me, is supposed to be a system of assistance for those in our society who need it the most right? Well, that's not quite the case here in South Africa. Welfare, as I found out on Monday is difficult to navigate, full of confusion, disorganized, chaotic and under- (fill in word...staffed, resourced, managed, etc.). When I arrived at work on Monday, I was told that Hanneke (nursing intern) and I were to take 3 of the respite patients to the Pinetown Welfare Office to complete a long process (over a month in total) and that they'd finally receive their Disability Grant cards.

We loaded our three patients in the tiny car before noon and we were off. As soon as we pulled up to the crowded area of town, I knew it was going to prove to be quite an experience. We walked across the street to this small complex that was absolutely mobbed with people. Desperate people...waiting. There is NOTHING easy or efficient about this place. We first asked 10 different staff people who we talk to or where we go and NO ONE KNEW. We were tossed from little room to little room in a sweltering office building trying not to fall over the men, women, and children that were staring at us.

I'm not even sure how we got to the "start" point, but we did. We were given priority because our patients are so ill. They were allowed to sit in the queue (waiting line) that snaked through the entire property, as we maneuvered the process on their behalf. We were then told that the men had to see one person while the woman with us had to see another. Hanneke and I split up and I took the 2 men with me. I took the first patient into the first office with me where he was asked to give a few bits of information which was recorded BY HAND in his file. They also had to give their thumbprints more than I've ever seen in my entire life. I don't think the FBI would require as much as the Pinetown Welfare office. We then went to the next small cubicle and did almost the same thing. This same process occurred at least 6 more times until finally we got to the woman who recorded the same information ON A COMPUTER.

Hundreds of thousands of people sick, destitute and needing assistance and they are subject to this grueling process of tedious bookkeeping. I was so frustrated by the time we got to the computer room (1 computer in a room). We then went to the second to last office where all the people that had been part of the process were just "hanging out." I had to laugh or I was about to cry, so I thanked them and chatted. The one man turned and reached for my hand, then said "you are so nice...will you be my wife?" I laughed and asked him to show us where to go next, as I was sure we WEREN'T done yet!

The last office is still a bit of a mystery to me. This time the patients gave electronic (maybe?) fingerprints and some more information. They then received their Disability Grant card...FINALLY. The patients will have to wait another month to be able to collect their money, but at least it will help them and/or their families. We piled back into the car...tired and sweaty and frustrated. It was now late afternoon.

1 comment:

Olivia Hubbard said...

Hi Jen!
I just caught up on all of the excitement going on in your life! I am mesmerized! I think you are doing such an amazing thing and I am so happy for you! Reading your blog has inspired me to look into something like this sometime down the road! Thinking of you, and praying for you! Best of luck with your year.. I'll be reading!
-Olivia Hubbard