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The Dream of Hope House

By Jess Mackintosh

We all have dreams, big dreams, small dreams and many impossible dreams - it's the same with wishes - we wish many things, sometimes for ourselves - more often for those we love. And sometimes when the dreams and wishes become one and materialize, it's almost too much to believe - that this dream, this wish - has come true!

When WFSAD asked me to write an article about Hope House, I knew that all of you reading this would understand how desperate I became to realize my dream and I sincerely hope that this will encourage those of you, who are still dreaming, to pursue the dream and make it happen-make it come true.

I have a daughter, Lindsay--my third and much loved youngest child. Her story is sadly so typical. She was a very bright, attractive, high achiever--both academically and on the sports field, well liked by her colleagues, a graduate in physiotherapy, when she became ill with schizophrenia. Like other families who have experienced similar adversity, we were devastated. We knew nothing of mental illness - there had been no family history, why us?
Lindsay was in and out of the local mental hospital. Sadly she was resistant to the medication, and her stays became longer and longer. Her last admission was for 18 months.

After she had been hospitalized for over a year in the high security section, the team of doctors caring for her suggested a one on one companion. The norm for her had become very ill, and they wanted to break this. After receiving permission from the Department of Health, I found Zainab, a young ex teacher, who felt she had a calling to look after those incapable of looking after themselves. This was the start of Lindsay's new life.

Three months later, she was moved to a less secure ward and Zainab started teaching her handicrafts. This became her savior. By using the crafts, Lindsay learnt a tool, a tool that she could use to help with one of the most debilitating symptoms of schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations. Three months later Lindsay was discharged on the strong recommendation that she should stay in a secure environment with 24 hour care.

But where? Cape Town offered nothing in this area. I heard that in Port Elizabeth a former social worker was running a group home where the residents were occupied productively during the day. I flew to meet with him and came back motivated - this was what Cape Town needed, what so many young sufferers of schizophrenia needed, what my daughter needed.

I can remember the very first meeting in my lounge, a group of concerned people, discussing how we were going to make this happen. I remember us choosing the name "Hope House Trust" for our organization, working on the business plan and eventually the fundraising. I felt so proud of the group - two of us the mothers of sufferers, the rest wonderful friends wanting to help - a teacher, a lawyer, an accountant, friends of different ages, different walks of life. We got the immediate support from the psychiatric hospital and their psychiatrists. At many of the fundraisers, we spoke about mental illness, educating the public and making them aware of the high percentage of people suffering from mental illness - hoping to make them understand and not fear the mentally ill.

Everything started falling into place. In October 2000 Hope House Trust was registered as a charitable Trust and thereafter as a non-profit organization. In January 2002 we received Government approval as a public benefit organization. We continued fundraising. We commenced our search for an ideal house, facing many disappointments. And then in December 2001, we bought 32 Peak Drive, Pinelands, our first Hope House!

We did not have enough money, but we could not wait any longer and knew that somehow we would find the money. On 15th July, after extensive renovations our first female residents moved in. It was a very emotional day.
We are very blessed with Hope House. We have two homes on the property. The old family home where our 4 female residents stay and a substantial cottage, which accommodates our 3 male residents. The property has a lovely large peaceful garden. Our full time housemother, Gill, stays in the cottage. She is like a mother, ensuring that the residents are cared for and supported. Zainab comes in daily to assist the residents with handcrafts and other forms of occupational therapy. We are putting her through her diploma in auxiliary social work and she loves her studies. Her work is very important as she keeps the residents motivated and busy.

We have the support of Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital and their Senior Occupational Therapist has used Hope House in her outreach program. The house is run on a strict but simple routine. Residents are encouraged to assist in the household chores, as well as in the garden. We have encouraged the residents to feel that this is their home. There is a wonderfully happy atmosphere - the girls in the activity room, sewing, laughing, with the radio blaring the latest musical hits and the male residents working in the garden, cleaning the pool. Domino, the resident dalmatian adds to the family feel, as does Lady, the mother of six adorable kittens and the budgie, Blue Boy.

Recently we asked the residents what their feelings were about Hope House - here are a few replies:

Maurice: "I enjoy the company and being cared for."
Rene: "I enjoy living in Hope House and I have learnt a lot - sewing."
Bekki: "It's a lovely place to stay and the people are very special."
And my Lindsay: "I feel very privileged and lucky to stay in Hope House, and I want to say thank you, and I also feel I have grown from the experience."

And so it has happened - the dream has come true - with the help and generosity of so many, many people, Hope House is now a reality - a home where people suffering from chronic schizophrenia live in harmony, support each other, and are treated with the respect they deserve.

I visit Hope House a few times each week and always have a humbling and wonderful feeling - the kind you want to shout from the rooftops: "ITS HAPPENED, IT WORKS, THANK YOU!!"


You can write to Jess Mackintosh, Chairperson, Hope House Trust, c/O WFSAD or email her at: hopehouse@kingsley.co.za