The rooms are open from 7am to 6pm seven days a week and it have amenities such as a kitchen, sitting areas and televisions; some refreshments are also provided. (Image: Ronald McDonald House Charities)Mothers of young children hospitalised at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto have had the use of two family rooms for almost a year, where they are able to rest and recuperate during the stressful time of caring for their sick children or premature babies.The rooms were sponsored by Ronald McDonald House Charities South Africa (RMHC SA), which says global research show that a family presence in hospital helps sick children heal and cope better. In trying to keep mothers and children together during such periods, the charity opened two family room programmes on 28 November 2013 at Bara, as the massive hospital is fondly known.These provide care and support for more than 100 mothers each day. Here, mothers of infants in the neonatal intensive care unit and neonatal ward can rest and regroup.Reggie Skhosana, the charity’s chairperson, said: “Through our family rooms, RMHC SA allows families to be supported and to stay together during their most trying times. Staying so close allows parents to better communicate with their child’s medical team and improves adherence to complicated treatment plans.”Open from 7am to 6pm seven days a week, the family rooms have amenities such as a kitchen, sitting areas and televisions; some refreshments are also provided. RMHC SA is in negotiations with other hospitals to open such rooms at their facilities.Nonhlanhla Dlamini’s premature infant daughter is in the intensive care unit at Bara. “It was like half my heart was taken out of my body; it is not a good feeling,” she says of her baby’s health. “The family room has become my home away from home. I’m surrounded by mothers who are going through the same thing and we end up motivating each other to stay positive.”Cleopatra Khumalo’s premature son is underweight, and his lungs are not fully developed. He too is in the hospital. “There are no places at the hospital that cater to our needs while our babies are resting,” she says, “so it is nice to come to the family room and rest on the couches and watch television to take our minds off what we have to deal with.”VOLUNTEERS ESSENTIALSkhosana explained that although the charity’s largest corporate donor was McDonald’s South Africa, RMHC SA relied on donations from other big companies, individuals and foundations to fund a portion of the operating costs of the programmes.“Over and above this, it depends heavily on the charity of the public and other corporates to help grow and raise funds for its various programmes. Volunteers are the backbone of our chapter and critical to our success in serving the children and families that require our support.”While Bara only has rooms for family support, the first full Ronald McDonald House was opened in 1974 in Philadelphia in the United States. The first house in South Africa will be built at Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, which will open in 2016. Campaigning for construction funds has already begun. The house will accommodate 28 families of sick children being treated at the hospital.Research is also being undertaken for a Care Mobile programme that will provide health care education and screenings for children in rural and peri-urban areas.For more information about the family rooms at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital or the charity, visit its website.