In 1991, on a hot, humid day in Francistown, Mavis Malela gave birth to a baby boy, her third and final child.
Since then, her existence has been almost entirely reduced to that of caregiver.
Malela is 66 now and she is tired. She desperately needs help.
Her youngest, Ookeditse Malela, was born with water in the brain.
Severely disabled, the young man is completely paralysed on his left side. Epileptic, he cannot walk, talk, eat or even go to the bathroom by himself.
Unable to communicate, the 31-year-old is entirely dependent on his mother for everything, including changing his nappy and being put to bed.
Although she adores her son with the fierce devotion only a mother is capable of, Malela admits it has taken its toll on her life.
Relief came last week in the form of a new wheelchair donated to the family by Specially-Elected Councilor, Modiri Jojo Lucas.
Before that, Ookeditse’s relatives – his two siblings and mother – would wheel him around in a tattered old chair given to them by the hospital.
Such acts of kindness make a huge difference to the family, making their lives that little bit easier.
However, as The Voice discovered when paying Malela a visit at her Block 7 home on Tuesday, they need more… much, much more.
We arrive to find the old woman sitting in the yard with her daughter and Ookeditse. Malela’s eldest son has since married and left the family home, a run-down three-bedroomed dwelling that houses the three grown-ups as well as four children (two grandkids and two orphans left behind by Malela’s late sister).
Clutching pills, Malela explains she is waiting for her grandson to return with water.
The tablets are not for her son but rather for her, painkillers to help soothe her aching body.
“I have pains in my back, neck and shoulders. I’m constantly lifting up my son, picking him in and out of his chair for bathing, bed time…” she says, her voice trailing away before she adds, “He may look thin but it’s killing me!”
Unemployed, the mother-of-three reveals she used to hustle a living through Ipelegeng but had to give that up as there was no one to stay home to look after Ookeditse.
“I cannot leave his sight because, immediately when I leave and he sees that I am not here, he becomes sad and does not eat. I am forced to be home always as he also needs to be changed sides when he is tired of sleeping or sitting. I am facing a big challenge but God only knows why. At first, I used to lock him in the house going to Ipelegeng as we needed money and it was not sitting well with me,” recalls Malela, her cheery tone out of sync with her sad words.
“At the hospital, they are saying he was born with epilepsy and a brain problem. They operated on his brain five times, trying to drain the fluid but the operations were unsuccessful,” continues the Mathangwane native, noting it is a miracle her son survived at all.
As we chat, Ookeditse sits quietly, occasionally breaking out in unprovoked giggles or anguished grunts – actions that cause his mother and sister to smile back at him with affection.
Malela tells The Voice they receive 30 diapers every month from Nyangabgwe.
“They do not last a month. He also gets P700 food voucher from government, which is not enough. My son’s teeth and jaws are not strong for hard food and it is difficult for me to buy him his special diet as I do not have money. He has to eat cornflakes, weetbix, milk and other soft foods,” she explains.
A fussy eater, Ookeditse refuses to eat when his mum gives him something he doesn’t like.
“I often have to take my last money to buy him what he wants. Sometimes we stay the whole week without electricity forcing me to cook with fire because our gas has long been finished!”
Wincing in pain, the tablets yet to kick in, Malela reveals she recently fell when lifting her son to bath as he suffered an epileptic fit.
“It’s not the first time this has happened,” she grimaces.
Despite her difficult situation, the good-natured granny is grateful for the support she has received, making a special mention of New Jerusalem church.
“I couldn’t cope without their help, they keep me strong!”
When asked what else they need, Malela ruefully admits the list is long.
As well as a new bed, the one she shares with Ookeditse is worn out, they require food, toiletries, diapers, wipes, clothes, cooking gas and, ideally, a water system toilet.
“We need help,” she ends with a heavy sigh.