CAPE TOWN, May 29 (JTA) — A South African Jewish group that provides a “safety pouch” for indigent mothers is celebrating its 70th anniversary. “Kangaroo care” — named after the Australian marsupial’s exceptional nurturing ability — represents a new approach to the treatment of premature babies that is being implemented at hospitals throughout South Africa. It’s just one of the programs backed by the Union of Jewish Women. Among its many programs, the group also furnished comfort rooms at several police stations for victims of violent crime and supports a ward for abused children at the Somerset Hospital. In the world of medicine, home to constant technological innovations, kangaroo care is low-tech. The program simply involves teaching mothers of premature babies to tie them against their bodies between their breasts, simulating the warmth and comfort of the womb. Deaths of premature babies have been halved as a result of this treatment, which obviates the need for incubators. That’s a boon in a developing country where resources for health care are thin. Dr. Gert Kirsten, head of the neonatal intensive care unit at Tygerberg Hospital, describes the UJW’s support as “tremendous” and a perfect example of the partnership that has to be forged in order to provide essential resources in an era of tight budgets. “It’s tough for anyone to work in a state hospital at the moment, but if you get support like that, it charges your batteries,” he said. The program is just the latest example of UJW’s commitment to the underprivileged. Its Cape Town branch, founded by German immigrant Toni Saphra in 1932, initially catered to the needs of the many refugees arriving in this city from Europe, as well as the underprivileged. At a civic reception hosted by the City of Cape Town last week to celebrate the UJW’s 70th anniversary, Mayor Alderman Gerald Morkel said the organization had been at the forefront of community service for seven decades. “The example which you have set and the impact which the union has had on the lives of so many of your fellow South Africans, regardless of their race or creed, stand as an indelible indication of the contribution which South African Jewry continues to make to the welfare of our citizens and the well-being of our nation,” he said. Referring to the current situation in the Middle East, Morkel said it “placed an ever more urgent burden on organizations such as yours which seek to reach across sectarian and religious borders in order to establish dialogue and trust.” In 1999, the organization received the mayoral award for “Excellence in Volunteering,” having been voted one of the top non-governmental organizations in Cape Town. Other UJW projects include Operation Jonathan — named for Yonatan Netanyahu, hero of the Entebbe hostage drama — which provides scholarships for needy students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The union also provides scholarships within South Africa for both Jewish and non-Jewish students.
Moira Schneider is a JTA correspondent in South Africa. A law graduate and psychology major, she is the Cape Town correspondent for the South African Jewish Report. She contributes to London's Jewish Chronicle, is a reporter for the Cape Jewish Chronicle and has been published in the Cape Times and Cape Argus.