Nurse shares story of how Archbishop Tutu changed her life

Johannesburg- As heavy downpours in the City of Cape Town heralded the final send off to the world-renowned theologian and human rights activist Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, many kilometres away in Ngangelizwe Township in the Eastern Cape province, Namhla Dikeni sighs for a moment before narrating the story of how the man with a signature giggle changed her life.

Although she would have loved to attend the funeral of her hero, she had to be at work at a local clinic later that day where she works as a professional nurse.

Evening if she was not on duty, distance would have stood in the way.

Dikeni’s’s biggest break came while she was volunteering as community health worker at Philani Development Centre located in Khayelitsha Township, on the outskirts of the City of Cape Town.

Philani is a community project rooted on promoting family health, focusing on the support of pregnant mothers and care for the newly born babies.

Dikeni, in an interview with the Sunday World said when she met the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, she had no idea that the coincidental meeting was the beginning of the realisation of her long held passion of becoming a professional nurse.

“I just asked that he pray for me because I wanted to study nursing and I had no money. He laughed and said my child, you must have faith, everything will fall into place if it’s part of your life’s journey. He then prayed for me as I had requested,” remembered Dikeni fondly.

Dikeni recalls that she was confused and somehow uninspired at the unexpected response from the Arch, little did she know that Tutu had taken to heart and had grand plans for the 28-year-old Dikeni.

“A week later, I received a call that the archbishop was going to sponsor my studies of becoming a nurse. I received a four-year scholarship and graduated a year ago. I was immediately filled with disbelief and did not know what to do or say. Before he passed on, I had planned to meet him to express my gratitude, but it wasn’t to be,” said Dikeni.

Dr Ingrid Le Roux, the director at Philani, an African word meaning stay alive, said the late Tutu had close ties with the community centre and whenever he needed a source of inspiration, he would visit them.

“He and Ma Leah were supposed to be coming to Khayelitsha to be part of our Grade R preschool graduation on November 26 this year but had to cancel due to the emergence of the omicron variant. I think the children gave him hope,” said Dr Le Roux.

The momentous occasion held at the iconic St Georges Cathedral in the city centre was a simplistic affair living up to the aspirations and the life that the late religious leader lived who wanted to be buried like a commoner.

Although accorded a government funeral category 1, no blue lights accompanied a vehicle carrying his mortal remains which had been kept in a cheap and simple coffin.

The funeral is being attended by various world leaders, dignitaries, and people from all walks of life. Tutu aged 90, a powerful force against apartheid died on 26 December at Cape Town’s Oasis Frail Care Centre.

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