By Carike Freygang
SWAKOPMUND - A frail six-year-old girl is lying curled up in a chair, unaware of the next spoon of porridge about to enter her mouth. A few years ago, you would not have found her sitting down for long, let alone eat porridge by choice, but now she does not have a say in the matter.
Back then, she was healthy, running bare feet all the time, and dreaming of eating ice cream every day. Little Ashandy //Gases was born in the Khorixas area on August 31, 2006 - a healthy baby weighing 2.7 kilogrammes and 52 centimetres long. She was a welcome addition to her family of five, and for the first two years of her life, she loved exploring the unknown and crept deep into the hearts of everyone who knew her. However, as fate would have it, her desire to explore changed her life and that of her immediate family forever. With tears in her eyes Ashandy’s mother, Monaliza Garoës, took this reporter on that journey that changed their lives. We walked over to a sofa decorated in floral patterns, and as she sat down, Monaliza took a deep breath and started to recall the series of events which left her little girl in this vegetative state.
“I finally received an employment opportunity in Swakopmund early in December 2008, which meant that I could buy presents for my children for Christmas,” she said, whilst staring into mid-air. She paused for a brief moment to adjust the position Ashandy sat in a chair opposite her in the family’s living room in the DRC informal settlement in Swakopmund, before continuing to tell her heart-wrenching story. “Since I had no one to take care of my younger children - twins (a boy and a girl) aged four at the time, and Ashandy, aged two at the time - I had to take them to my mother, Getrud Garoës, who lives on a farm in the Khorixas district. After securing their arrival at my mother‘s, I soon returned to Swakopmund to start work as a domestic worker,” she explained. Monaliza has two older children, aged 11 and nine, who remained with her in Swakopmund because of school. The day March 27, 2009 is a day never to be forgotten by Monaliza and her family, as it was the day she ‘lost’ her happy and healthy little Ashandy.
“My mother was on her way to receive her monthly old age pension at a nearby farm called ‚Houmoed‘, which was about 120 kilometres away from their farm. While preparing to leave, she placed her anti-diabetic tablets on the bed in the room where Ashandy and sister Marilyn (one of the twins) were playing,” said Monaliza. Uneasy about recalling the events, Monaliza picked up Ashandy from the chair across her and placed her on her lap, hugging her tightly for comfort. She composed herself and wiped away another tear. “My mother was planning on drinking the tablets, and placed the container on the bed so that she would not forget to take the medication. The children started jumping up and down on the bed - as is the nature of almost all children. That is when they made the discovery of the container with pills,” said Monaliza.
At the time, their grandmother was not in the room, and only returned to get the container before leaving for Houmoed on a donkey cart. When the grandmother reached her destination, she noticed that there were fewer pills inside the container than there was supposed to be. It later transpired that the two children consumed about 40 tablets. She hastened back to her house as there was no means of communication where she was at Houmoed, and arrived there late in the evening. Monaliza’s nephew, Edward Garoëb, who was tasked with keeping an eye on the children, told his grandmother on her return that he noticed that the children were drowsy. He said he immediately realised something was wrong when Marilyn vomited and Ashandy fell silent, and both‚ fell asleep‘ later. After several attempts to wake her up and induce vomiting, Ashandy however remained, asleep‘.
They called Monaliza in Swakopmund, informing her of what had happened. Monaliza then called her uncle, Fana Garoëb, who was on another farm called ’Dam‘, about 40 km away from Khorixas. Early the next morning, they drove with the children to meet Fana, who took the children to the hospital in Khorixas with his car. When the toddlers arrived at the hospital, they were examined and instantly transported to the Katutura State Hospital in Windhoek. Ashandy was kept in the Intensive Care Unit, where the medical staff continuously pumped her stomach. After a week in the ICU, she regained consciousness and was transferred to a normal ward. “Since opening her eyes, she has been lying the way she is now,” said the distraught mother. Monaliza’s other daughter, Marilyn, managed to escape the fate of her sister, and is now living a healthy, normal life.
The mother’s worst fear was confirmed when doctors told her that her daughter sustained permanent brain damage, and will be unable to do anything for herself. “They then referred me to a training class, where I was to familiarise myself on how to cope with my daughter’s new disability,” she said. The trauma is not over, as every day the little girl has to stay home alone when her mother goes to work, because there are no funds to hire someone to look after her or take her somewhere to be looked after until Monaliza gets home from work. Monaliza took this reporter’s hand and placed it on Ashandy’s chest to feel her heartbeat. “I need assistance to keep my daughter’s heart beating. I don’t have enough funds to properly attend to the needs of my daughter, such as diapers and food, and if there is any assistance from the public, it would be most welcome,” she said.
Monaliza added that she can still ‘see and hear’ Ashandy walking and talking as if it was yesterday. - Nampa