Sister Nkhensani Shibambu is a religious sister living and working in South Africa. In addition to her parish work, she is also a host for the Catholic community radio station Radio Veritas.
Having lost her own father to COVID-19, she is a strong advocate for immunization, especially among members of the religious community, and writes here how she uses her role as a religious leader to help fight reluctance and widespread misinformation about vaccines.
You can read more in the series In My Own Words here.
My name is Sister Nkhensani Shibambu. I am 48 years old and the second of six children. I was born in the bustling and populated township of Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, South Africa.
The township of Alexandra is close to central Johannesburg and next to one of South Africa’s wealthiest suburbs – Sandton. So I grew up surrounded by poverty and misery.
Girls my age at the time had nowhere to go but to have babies. I knew this was not the life I wanted to lead. I knew I had a goal. I had very good results in school and I was graduating first or second. My dream was to become a lawyer because I felt drawn to the idea of making a difference in my community. This is where my journey to become a nun began. After passing the baccalaureate, I wanted to start my training as a nun, but my parents did not want any of this, because they expected me to help them raise my brothers and sisters. It was only after four years that I was able to realize my dream of becoming a nun.
Education has always been an important aspect of my life. I believe that it is through education that we can break free from the vicious circle of poverty. Human rights are also important to me, especially the rights of women and children, because they are the most vulnerable in our society and therefore it is important to protect them.
Seeing my pastor doing his work in the community: visiting the sick, reaching out to the needy and the broken-hearted touched me. I felt inspired to follow in his footsteps and do the same for my community. I had the opportunity to join a missionary congregation when I wanted to become a sister. However, I felt drawn to staying locally as I saw the suffering of my fellow citizens at home. I wanted to make a difference in their life instead of going to other countries. Since becoming a nun, I have been able to make a difference for the many young people and their families to whom I have ministered, some of whom are now adults and have families of their own.
Last year was very difficult for me as I lost my father to COVID-19. It messed up things at home and I had to spend time at home helping my mom settle into life without my dad. I was to be the source of strength and courage for my mother and my siblings. It was also a difficult time in our religious circles as we lost a number of nuns due to the pandemic. As a religious leader, I had to find ways to support different religious groups morally, emotionally and in other cases find ways to provide financial support where needed.
Vaccines have been used for many years to protect humans against disease, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no different. It aims to protect us from the COVID-19 virus. I believe that vaccines save lives and that it is important for us to get vaccinated to achieve the immunity of the population. The more people get vaccinated, the harder it will become for the virus to spread. A COVID-19 vaccine is our only chance to eradicate the virus.
There are many confusing myths and therefore we have reservations about vaccines. If these myths are not adequately addressed, we will never achieve collective immunity and all vaccines will be wasted.
Through a radio show I am presenting on Radio Veritas on COVID-19, some of the following myths were discussed: that vaccines are made from aborted fetuses; that they modify your DNA; that they are intended to wipe out the human race, and that people will die between two days and two weeks after vaccination; that vaccinations cause disability; that 5G networks transmit COVID-19; and that vaccines have microchips or tracking devices.
When registration opened for 35-49 year olds, I made sure to register the same evening via the Whatsapp line and it turned out to be very simple and user-friendly. It took me less than 5 minutes in total and I received my acknowledgment text message almost immediately after signing up.
I got the vaccine on July 19 at Grace Bible Church in Soweto and got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It was an amazing experience for me the site is a drive thru so everything was done in the car from the paperwork to the 15 minute observation after receiving the jab. The efficiency of the staff on the site was incredible.
While waiting to be stung, I found myself with enough time to think. I had to confront my feelings around the vaccines. I must admit that I felt a little anxious. I found myself thinking about all the conspiracies and wondering if they were true. My anxiety was heightened by the question of how my body would respond to the vaccine. I decided that if so many other people had received their blow, I would choose to roll up my sleeve and be counted among them too.
I chose to protect myself; I chose to save my country so that we can achieve collective immunity and be able to return to a certain level of normality. I am thankful that I had no major side effects from the vaccine other than a dramatic itch that lasted for three days! I feel good and healthy. I’m glad I chose to be vaccinated.
Even if things improve when it comes to vaccination in South Africa, I still hope that countries that have the capacity to make COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, like South Africa, will be allowed to do so to resolve the problem of supply delays. There must be equal access to vaccines so that no country and no one is left behind.
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