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Jana Oosthuizen

Om ‘n blywende verskil te maak, is om iemand elke dag ‘n bietjie beter as gister te laat voel.

While Jana Oosthuizen’s job at the Topsy foundation has meant she has often been able to make a big difference in the lives of those in their care, she lavishes just as much love and attention on her own family.

Four girls, who all agree that pink is the very best colour in the world (incidentally, the colour of Topsy uniforms), keep her very busy when she is home in Villiers. “Ek’s ‘n Villiers kind” she says on her way to collect her brood from school. The girls attend the same school she and her husband, Johnnie, did. Jana likes the fact that in a small school everyone gets a chance to participate, play in the sports teams and shine in at least one activity. “I want them to grow up knowing they are worth something. To be ambitious but also satisfied with what they have, not always wanting more material things.”

Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all live nearby adding to their sense of security and affirming the importance of family and community. Small beginnings can certainly lead to great things, the Topsy Foundation is proof of this.

After completing her medical degree and returning to Villiers to get married, Jana taught for a while. When the opportunity to be involved with Topsy in neighbouring Grootvlei arose in 2001, she grabbed the chance to contribute to the community.

They began with home based care in the township of Siyathemba – just Jana and a fieldworker, visiting homes and helping where they could. “We had no ARVs (Anti-Retroviral drugs), people were dying all the time and we suddenly had to care for orphans too.” This beginning has had a profound impact on the way Topsy has developed. “Elizabeth Moshe and I walked together for many years to get this thing working.” There were many challenges, first in registering a children’s home to care for the orphans and later having to find other safe places for those children to live as funding for the home dried up. “During the long hours we spent together, Elizabeth and I got to know one another well and to see what the most pressing needs in the community were.”

When one of the children in their care was diagnosed with AIDS, they bought ARVs with their own money and before they knew it, a Dutch organisation offered to fund medication for 10 more children. What about the mothers, though? “We couldn’t just leave them to die”, so fundraising in earnest began and soon their efforts attracted the attention of Right to Care who fund clinics all over South Africa. Topsy have always responded directly to the needs of the community, so when N3TC offered to help, they put the funding to good use buying nutritional porridge and supplements to support those on ARVs.

Now, Topsy is a legend in the community. They offer transport from surrounding areas to the clinic, and still visit those too ill to make the trip, in their homes. They support the setting up of food gardens (actually, no one gets a food parcel unless they are making an effort to grow some of their own food too). “We help anyone who is interested in growing food. Access to wholesome food makes a big impact on many levels. Not only improving physical health, but psychological and spiritual wellbeing too. The exercise is good and the sense of purpose and self-worth is priceless.”

Jana glows with delight as a colleague brings in a series of drawings local children have done showing various aspects of their work. This is affirmation of the esteem in which the organisation is held. She is also proud of the fact that as the ARVs start to work, the stigma attached to being HIV positive seems to have diminished. “In the beginning, some people didn’t want us to visit them at home because they didn’t want their neighbours to see us. Now, they happily catch the Topsy bus and the whole atmosphere is a much more positive one.”

Jana is determined, that despite requests from across the country to set up Topsy clinics, they need to focus on what they do right here in Grootvlei, and do it well. “Rather make a real difference in one place than get side tracked by growth. Small is beautiful.”

Jana is greeted with outstretched hands and warm smiles everywhere as she does her rounds. “It’s like a big family” says a grinning Oupa Nzimande – Social Auxiliary Worker, whom we meet in the corridor. Oupa started out as a fieldworker but his enthusiasm soon meant he became a Vegetable Garden Coordinator.

It is obvious that at Topsy, staff development is key. Training and empowerment mean that individuals have more opportunities. “Sometimes it is hard to hold on to good staff when salaries elsewhere are better” comments Jana wistfully, “we have been lucky that so many people are dedicated to this community though.”

After a busy week at the clinic, Jana would love to sleep in a little on the weekends, but that’s just not possible. Usually, on Saturday, Johnnie goes off to the farm early and returns to collect them all at breakfast time. Then is it fun all round, as the girls enjoy riding on “Spinnekop”, a giant machine which spreads fertilizer on the fields. Sundays see the whole family walking to church, which is quite literally the centre of the town, followed by a braai with friends. Jana fits in time on her bicycle whenever possible – she loves to ride through the quiet, wide open spaces with her husband alongside her.

“I’ve done a lot at Topsy. I always like to finish what I start, but I know it can carry on without me now. One person doesn’t make an organisation” she concludes, “I want to focus on my own family for a while.”