Ruth Feigenbaum - Bulawayo's Unsung Heroine 2006

Jewish assistance to victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa extends beyond the borders of this country, as the inspiring example of Ruth Feigenbaum demonstrates. A former South African, she has virtually single-handedly established and now runs SGOFOTI ("Support Group of Families of Terminally Ill), an organization devoted to providing emotional and psychological support to the families of HIV/AIDS victims in Zimbabwe.

SGOFOTI, based in Bulawayo, is a non-governmental, non-political organization operating primarily on a volunteer basis. Volunteers, women drawn from the communities in which they live, receive ongoing training by MAC (Matabeleland Aids Council) and Hospice, as well as training as counsellors by professional clinical psychologists.

An important area of SGOFOTI's work involves HIV/AIDS orphans, the most seriously and directly affected. Through the vision and inspiration of one of its counsellors, Patricia Tshabalala, an orphan support group called the Vulindlela Guardians was started at the Vulindlela Youth Centre in the western Bulawayo suburb of Mpopoma. Assistance includes providing for such needs as school fees, recreation and positive reinforcement (building a good self image). To a degree, a sense of family has been created for those whose families have been taken away from them.

Occupational Therapy is another important aspect of support provided by SGOFOTI. >From donations of wool and material its beneficiaries, mainly grandmothers with extra dependants and no breadwinner, sew or knit articles which they then sell to generate a little much-needed income. A small percentage of the proceeds of the sales go towards running costs, which include providing tea and bread for the beneficiaries.

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, Spiritual Leader to the African Jewish Congress, said that Feigenbaum, a former South African and now an active member of the Zimbabwe Jewish community, was an example to others through her determination to do good works no matter how difficult the circumstances.

"I find it enormously encouraging that even under the difficult situation in Zimbabwe Ruth Feigenbaum has taken up her responsibility and actively become involved in improving the plight of the disadvantaged" he said.