Over the weekend of 9 to 11 June, Sunflower Children’s Hospice celebrated 25 years of palliative care for children in Bloemfontein, Botshabelo and Bainsvlei. Joan Marston, the founder of the hospice, wrote the following report on the festivities held to commemorate this auspicious occasion.

On a chilly Friday 9 June, we held a busy Open House throughout the day; great fun and games for the children; delicious cake and tea; then ending with a Candlelight Remembrance, and a blessing of the freshly painted Sunflower Wall of Remembrance. Led by our Chaplain, Fr Lazarus Mohapi, it also included 3 members of our Community Poets who recited their powerful poetry, and a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace by our Community coordinator Me Olga Molahloe who has been caring for our hospice children since 1994.

Visitors from near and far

Fr Lazarus then led prayers for the children who are in Sunflower House, and in the community – with a special remembrance prayer for every one of the more than 20 000 children cared for over the past 25 years.

Ruth Smith, who set up the Sunflower Children’s Hospice Trust in the UK in 1994, came over for the festivities and brought wonderful gifts and warm greetings as well.

Father Lazarus and Ruth Smith at the baptism

Baptism and gentle death

Amidst all the celebrations Father Lazarus spent time anointing a dying baby on Friday; and on the Saturday, with the staff and children, Ruth and Joan in attendance, baptized the tiny child, who died gently 2 days later. Reminding us that while we help these children enjoy quality of life, we also care for them, so they die gently.

Thank you to all the helpers

Sunday was the time to give thanks to God and all who have helped maintain the hospice over many years.  Staff, children and volunteers joined the congregation a beautiful Thanksgiving Service at the Anglican Cathedral where the children’s hospice first began.

Choir from Ohio

And across the oceans on 6 June a choir of 300 from 3 correctional facilities in Ohio, joined with supporters and staff to hold a colourful, meaningful Sunflower Arts Festival and sing for our children.

Beautiful messages have come in from all around the world and we look forward to the next 25 years together with the children and families we love and serve.

Information on Sunflower Children’s Hospice

St Nicholas (now Sunflower) Children’s Hospice began as a development of the original Bloemfontein Hospice and was formally set up on   the 9 June 1998.

However, hospice care for children really began in Bloemfontein in 1991 when a beautiful little 9-month-old girl with SMA Type 1 was referred for hospice care.  From that time on there were always children in home care and Day Care. But it was when the AIDS pandemic began to affect children and the number of child deaths increased tremendously that we realised there was a need for a separate hospice progamme designed specifically for children, because children are different. With very little knowledge, the first training was developed in 1994. At this time, 6 Day Care Centres were set up to provide healthcare, nutrition and developmental stimulation for HIV positive children who were unwelcome in other nursery schools.

Once we realised children were often dying in poor home circumstances, we approached the Free State Head of Health who immediately agreed to find a place where children who were dying could be cared for. This led to the opening of Sunflower House on the grounds of National District Hospital and a partnership with the hospital, University departments and the Department of Health that flourishes to this day.

The wall of remembrance at Sunflower Children’s Hospice is a wall of painted sunflowers with a small plaque featuring the name of every child who has died while being cared for at the hospice.

You can see more pictures of the celebrations and learn more about Sunflower Children’s Hospice by liking and following them on their Facebook Page.