While visiting a hospital with a group of ladies from church, Denise Mortlock noticed a group of children in need of extra attention that did not have access to palliative care services. Seeing these children’s situation struck a nerve with Denise, and so began the journey of The Rocking Horse Project (RHP) in Eswatini.
Denise, who serves as the executive director, has grown RHP from an idea into a reputable organization that aims to improve the quality of life for children and young people with life-shortening conditions. Raquel da Silva, the organization’s program manager, handles most of the RHP’s day-to-day activities which include working in hospitals, hospices and homes to make their patients as pain-free and happy as possible. They offer support and encouragement to pediatric palliative care teams as they undergo specialist training, sharing expertise and skills upon request.
The first child that RHP served seven years ago still holds a special place in their hearts. According to the RHP staff, “His name was Khumbulani, which means ‘to remember.’ How fitting to have that as a reminder for the future children that we assist, to always remember the precious lives that we have had the privilege of touching. One may think the action is a one-way avenue of giving, but children have the wonderful gift to reciprocate that action and touch our lives deeply.”
Since opening their doors in June of 2013, RHP has worked closely with the Eswatini Ministry of Health and medical professionals in the country. Partnerships are vital to the work they do. Since 2016, RHP has been partnered with VITAS Healthcare of the Inland Empire in California. Funds generated from the VITAS team directly supports the important work of RHP and the partners are in regular contact to share stories and check in on each other.
When RHP started seven years ago, they never could have imagined the world they are currently working in. Despite the lockdown and disturbances caused by COVID-19, RHP continues to provide services to those in need. While play coordinators have been removed from the hospitals, they are still working from home. To reduce contact with patients, RHP provided patients with a two-month supply of medicine instead of the typical one-month supply. Children admitted to the main referral hospital continue to receive care packs.