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South Africa: Social workers accompany refugees through all
05 June 2017

Annette sitting in front of her store. (Sarah Morsheimer/Jesuit Refugee Service)

Johannesburg, 5 June 2017 - Marcelline, a health worker for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Johannesburg, gave me a warm and comforting smile before we headed out to visit a few of her clients. 

"We accompany those that don't have anyone else and help them through everything – poverty, terminal illness, and even death" she explained. 

In Johannesburg and Pretoria, JRS visits the most vulnerable of the refugee community in their homes two to three times per week. She visits on average ten clients per week and provides them with health checks, provisions, psychosocial support, and hope. 

As we travelled down the main drag of Yeoville, a suburb of Johannesburg home to many refugees, you could see and hear the diversity of cuisine and language in the stores and people alongside the road. We pulled over and stopped at a small convenience shop to visit one of Marcelline's long-time clients, Annette. 

Annette stood up slowly, her feet severely swollen from untreated diabetes. There was a deep sadness in her eyes that dimmed as she saw Marcelline and me coming. A brief smile flitted across her face as we embraced and sat down to talk. 

Annette escaped from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2007 after she and her family were threatened, beaten, and raped. 

She lost her husband and their baby and has not seen her two sons since that night. With multiple injuries and excessive bleeding, Annette was brought to a MSF hospital in a refugee camp where she had a life-saving operation. 

"After my operation we tried to go back home but things only got worse. I can't even begin to explain the things I saw."

Annette decided to flee the country with her two daughters. They struggled each day for survival as they made their way through Tanzania, Zambia, and eventually to South Africa. 

Marcelline was walking around Yoeville when she heard a woman speaking Swahili sleeping on the street with her children around her. That woman was Annette. 

"Blessed be the day that I met this woman. She is my angel," Annette says with tears in her eyes, "She immediately brought us food and told us to come to JRS. They helped with hospital fees, food, and housing."

Marcelline, also a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Annette have created a special bond through years of home visits and sharing their traumas to help each other heal. 

Annette suffers from multiple health issues including thyroid issues, high blood pressure, and general organ failure. This time last year, doctors told her she was terminally ill. She still suffers and experiences pain from her illnesses but her condition is no longer terminal. 

Marcelline's visits bring food, health care, money for school uniforms for her grandchildren, and a human connection. 

"You have no idea how many traumas she has lived through. From this trauma, she suffers from PTSD and depression. It is important for me to be here for her when I can," explains Marcelline. 

Marcelline often goes above and beyond for her clients. Last December, she asked her church to help provide food for Annette and her family for the month. 

"They gave us a feast like you wouldn't believe," said Annette, "I will never forget the love that she has shown me and my family."

Marcelline is dedicated to serving all her clients. By showing them dignity and offering support and companionship, she makes a difference in their lives by providing them hope and opportunity. 

- Sarah Morsheimer, JRS International Communications Assistant 

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Martina Bezzini