Neliswa Gaji is the Founder and Managing Director of the NGO Milani Foundation of Hope, which is named after her son. It aims at supporting, empowering and motivating mothers who have children living with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Neliswa is a UNISA graduate who studied Applied Psychology majoring in Psychology. It is at Red Cross Children’s Hospital that Neliswa believes that the Milani Foundation was born. Her heart ached for weeks as she witnessed very sick children as she has never seen so many sick children before, but her pain was mostly for the mothers. The majority of women are disadvantaged, unemployed, low income earners and single.If they are married in some cases, husbands left as they could not deal the situation of a sick child or even disabled. Neliswa went back to Red Cross Hospital to the ward Milani was admitted to, to give support to women, mothers by donating what she refers to as “dignity bags” with sanitary pads, bath soaps and other toiletries and also to give motivation and hope to mothers using her story as a point of reference.
Neliswa encourages women to empower themselves and to always remember that they are not defined by the circumstances they are going through and that the healing and wellbeing of the child depends on the mother as doctors can only do so much but parents need to continue to live a fulfilled life. The Milani Foundation of Hope has donated over 110 dignity bags since its conception in May 2015 reaching 110 women who due to their circumstances will prioritize bread over sanitary pads and toothpaste. Her life changing experience also inspired her to share her journey on paper as she is writing her first book titled And He Listened which she believes will inspire and touch the lives of many.
My Highlights | Giving birth to my two children. I consider this a highlight because whenever I look at them, I am proud that I have been the tool chosen by God to bring life into this earth. To give birth to children who will hopefully bring change and solutions into our society or even country. Forming the Milani Foundation of Hope whose mission is to restore the dignity of women, revive hope in families, and giving support by addressing the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of parents who have children that are critically ill, physically disabled etc. Every time we visit Redcross Hospital to donate women’s toiletries, (sanitary pads being the core of our donations) I regard that moment as a highlight. Recently taking 20 women from Red Cross Hospital to Table Mountain has been a highlight. A 65 year old who was teary when she got on top of the mountain for the first time – that was my highlight and a moment I will never forget.
The Difference Between Good And Great | People who are good at what they do simply do what they do because they are skilled or talented. People who are great have a different mindset. They always look beyond what is expected of them. They believe that there is a better way beyond the norm and standard set. These people value time and meeting deadlines and they also value the quality of the work they present.
A Key Talent | I would say resilience. This is among others, a strength I think that has helped me over the years and recently to be able to rise again, move on and face the world even after stormy seas. There are many people who unfortunately, have not been able to rise after life has thrown unpleasant situations at them. Resilience is a state of mind and I don’t believe it’s something that can just be replicated by watching someone else because our experiences and what life throws at us would be different. To achieve this strength requires a person to first have a positive view of themselves and to believe that whatever it is that they are going through it will get better and there is life at the end of the tunnel.
Lessons I Have Learnt | I have learned to maximize on every opportunity presented to me, especially an opportunity to do good. I learned that even in the midst of our misery and pain life still presents us with an opportunity to look beyond ourselves and situation and to do good to the next person. Life presents us with an opportunity to give whilst expecting to receive, to love when you have all the reasons to hate and to comfort when you need to be comforted. When I felt disadvantaged at some point in my life I was shocked to discover that I in fact was at an advantage and blessed compared to women who on top of the sick child have been abandoned by their husbands and unemployed etc. When some women from time to time would use paper towels as a sanitary pad; I realized that I was blessed and I should be grateful in order for me to be a blessing to others. It was this realization that gave birth to the Milani Foundation of Hope and meaning for my existence.
Dealing With Doubt | When I fear or have doubts I ask myself what is it that I fear and why. I have often realized that fear is associated with us not knowing and doubting our reaction to whatever we are afraid of. When I was told that my son would not make it due to a condition he had, I was overwhelmed with the fear of losing my child. However now I know that the fear I had was of not knowing how I will react to losing my child and the fear of feeling the pain. I conquered my fear by constantly reminding myself that whatever happens, I will survive it. I envisioned myself better and I wanted to be okay and strong. I encouraged myself by reading stories of people who had gone through great challenges and yet survived. I made references of stories of people that I know on a personal level who had gone through pain but survived it eventually. This helped me to know that I too will get better whatever happens.
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | The Bible is my number one resource. I get my motivation and direction about my life from the word. I also read inspirational books by the well know authors: Iyanla Vanzat, her book Peace From Broken Pieces inspires me as I read her story of losing everything. I listen to music, gospel music in particular is my inspiration. I have also recently listened to Beyoncé’s song “I WAS HERE”. I am inspired by the powerful lyrics of the song on leaving a mark and making a difference, which is my mission.
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | To publish my first book and to continue writing more books that will inspire others, especially women. To continue giving motivational talks a platform I use to motivate and empower mothers and women. To expand the Milani Foundation of Hope by reaching and supporting more women who are confined behind the walls of their pain.
The Meaning Of Life | To live life to the fullest and abundantly. To live in harmony as part of the human race. To live a significant life that will benefit others even when you are no longer on this earth.
I Am Inspired By | Children at Red Cross Hospital and other hospitals who are very ill but still manage to smile at the sight of a teddy bear. My son Milani who despite 100 seizures a day still smiles, appreciates life and his fighting attitude to learn and grow inspires me as his mother to continue appreciating the small yet important things in life and to never give up. My mother is my role model despite her being an orphan which led her to drop out of school and worked as a domestic worker at age 15 and still managed to raise six children.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I would like to leave a legacy of giving, love and making a difference to others.