Hope for Africa

by Cynndie Hoff

South Africa ranks 145th out of 197 countries in combating infant mortality. Only three pediatric hospitals exist on the entire African continent to serve its 450 million children in need of health care. By comparison, 14 pediatric hospitals serve California alone. This disparity means that most sick and injured African children receive no medical attention at all, and those who do usually end up in facilities ill-equipped to meet their needs. Nearly a decade ago, Nelson Mandela spoke of his dream to bring adequate care to these children. He chose Sibongile “Bongi” Mkhabela, whose five-year-old son, Lindo, died from third-degree burns, to help make the dream come true.

Turning that dream into reality, Mkhabela has faced roadblocks along the way, but as CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Trust, she draws inspiration from Mandela, who comforted her as her son struggled to live. “We suddenly saw the world of sick children, and it was not kind, thoughtful, or childlike—it needed change,” said Mkhabela. “Nelson Mandela has been a symbol of hope in my life. I consider it an honor to further his legacy and bring aid to children in need.”

Mkhabela’s efforts received an enormous boost when she met Jennifer (Clawson ’80) Trubenbach, president and executive director of Operation of Hope, a U.S.-based volunteer reconstructive surgical team that travels the world and donates surgery to thousands of people in need. Mkhabela asked Trubenbach to arrange a tour of California hospitals and introduce her to sister-city nursing programs and specific medical alliances that could benefit the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital slated to open in 2014. Operation of Hope, serving as a consultant for the new hospital in Africa, hosted Mkhabela and her trustee Nana Magomola in Los Angeles. “Our hope is to share our network of medical knowledge and contacts in support of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital,” said Trubenbach. “Operation of Hope welcomes the opportunity to empower Ms. Mkhabela and everything she is trying to accomplish under the legacy of Nelson Mandela.”

Already, Mkhabela has overseen the hospital’s feasibility and verification phases, and plans to begin construction of the hospital in 2012. For her profound dedication and humanitarian work, Operation of Hope honored her with the Vision Award on November 4, 2011. Special guest Octavia Spencer, who played Minny in the major motion picture The Help, based on the novel written by Katherine Stockett, presented the award to Mkhabela. With ongoing support from Trubenbach and Operation of Hope, Mkhabela hopes to address the glaring need throughout Southern Africa and envisions a day when every African child will have access to quality medical care.

For more information about Operation of Hope, visit www.operationofhope.org.

Originally published in the Spring '12 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.