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Retired East London nurse can’t stop lifelong habit of helping others

Retired nurse Ethel Qwesha, 80, has been mentoring community health workers for 12 years. Born in Burgersdorp, she came to East London 60 years ago to look for work as a domestic worker, but then she decided to further her academic career and became a qualified nurse.

Her career started as a trainee at Frere Hospital for two years. She served as a nurse for 40 years, and retired in 2002.

Retired nurse, Ethel Qwesha, continues to help those in need of medical care
Retired nurse, Ethel Qwesha, continues to help those in need of medical care

“Nursing was a calling. The passion started at the age of 13, when I would call in at elderly people who had no-one to assist them with their daily errands and house chores.

“This would be done every day I came back from school, after I had done my homework and washed my school shirt and socks. My mother sometimes wondered about my whereabouts, as I never played with other children, up until Christmas Day, when people would send me gifts for the work I did.” 

Qwesha said seeing people she helped move from critical health conditions to fully recovered was what she enjoyed most about her job.

“This gives me courage and hope in carrying on taking care of my patients. I also love seeing nurses formally dressed in their neat uniforms. I always saw myself in one of those.”

After retiring, Qwesha decided to mentor health workers in the rural area of Mooiplaas, where she now lives, by assisting them with basic healthcare skills.

“Mooiplaas is a rural area with vulnerable people. We are far from health facilities such as clinics, hospitals and stores. Very few nurses want to work in rural areas.”

Qwesha took it upon herself to train young health workers in basics such as first aid procedures, how to feed and bath a bedridden patient, how to take care of a wound and how to make a bed. She would also take her trainees to the homes of those who were sick, just to show them how valuable life was.

“I would conduct health awareness programmes and promote a healthy lifestyle. I made sure I had time to spend with the health workers, just to check their mental wellbeing, in case it was affected by the work.”

She said people in Mooiplaas were challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People are anxious and afraid because of the high number of deaths. Wearing masks is not easy, as they feel like they are suffocating,” she said.

But Qwesha is confident things will change for the good.

“These five months of coronavirus lockdown have taught people to value their health and life even more than usual. I believe our country is going to change.

“I expect new developments to emerge. Yes jobs are lost, but people will just start showcasing their newfound talents and start up new businesses,” she said.



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