In 2015, Bergzicht Training alumnus and then unemployed Janet Damane opened her door to a complete stranger, an elderly, frail man who had been dropped on her doorstep and abandoned by his children. What she didn’t know at the time, was that this act of selflessness, while she herself was struggling, would help her find her true calling and ensure she would never be unemployed again.
“A man came to my house one day and asked if I would look after his dad. I agreed to look after the old man who would supply me with some of his pension to allow me to take care of him and buy food for the household. I looked after him until he died,” explains Janet who had been unemployed for two years by then.
“This is where my passion to care for others started.”
It was not easy going though as not too soon after the old man had moved in, his son changed his details with the Department of Social Development. This helped his son obtain a new South African Social Security Agency card for his dad, which allowed him to withdraw the old age pension grant provided by government to his dad each month.
“During that time, there were nights where my son and I went to bed hungry and days where I had to beg for food for us and the old man.”
Per chance, the Hospice Stellenbosch – a “palliative care facility that offers individuals and families who are affected by life threatening or life limiting diseases” with health and frail care support – decided to pay home visits to elderly persons in the Stellenbosch area. They also visited Janet’s home.
“They were really impressed with how well I had looked after him. When the Hospice and Child Welfare found out that the old man’s card was with his son, they immediately ensured that we were able to get a new card for the old man and that I would become his guardian and take care of him with his pension.”
With the income Janet received with the pension, she used half to take care of the old man and gave the rest to him to spend as he please. That, together with the child support grant she received each month, helped relieve some of the financial burden of this single mother.
“At night, when I prayed with my son and the old man, the old man always ended the prayer with ‘Lord, please help Dennis to get everything she wants and needs’.”
“For some reason he called me Dennis,” she says and laughs.
By the time he passed away, Janet was eager to improve her skills as a frail carer.
“He opened my eyes to something I would love doing.”
Thanks to a friend who worked at Azaleahof Old Age Home, Janet was advised to visit Bergzicht Training and apply for the Health and Frail Care Programme at the organisation. In 2016, two days after registering at Bergzicht Training, she started the iPOWER (Self-Empowering) Foundation Programme.
“On the day that the programme started it was raining really hard and I had no taxi fare to get to Bergzicht Training, so I walked all the way to their offices in that rain.”
“Studying there was a huge opportunity for me. Bergzicht Training rolled a massive rock out of my path,” says Janet with tears rolling down her cheeks.
She says her late mother, who passed away 11 years ago, had always dreamt she would become a nurse. Unfortunately there was no money for Janet to study and so she worked as a sales assistant at Lewis Stores and Best Electric instead.
At Bergzicht Training she was able to expand on the practical experience she had gained while taking care of the old man and learn important things about health and frail care.
“I learned a lot, especially during my practical when I worked at Hospice Stellenbosch and St Josephs Home for Chronically Ill Children.”
“I am really thankful to Bergzicht Training for the knowledge they shared with me. I also discovered that I liked working in the kitchen and even though I was not a good cook before, I learnt to make quite a few nice dishes.”
On the day she graduated, a heavy burden was lifted off her shoulders.
The Placement Bureau assisted her with finding work through the nursing agency MedEx. On the Friday following her graduation, MedEx contacted her and asked if she could start working at La Clemencé, a luxury retirement village in Stellenbosch, on the Monday.
“So many times you see these beautiful places and you wish you could work there one day and then it happened for me.”
At present, Janet takes care of an elderly couple in Die Boord in Stellenbosch and helps out at La Clemencé whenever her services are needed.
“Since finishing my studies, I have never had to use my CV to find a job. Doors have been opening for me all the time. When my patients sadly pass away, I am offered a new job immediately thereafter. Your love for what you do writes your CV for you.”
“When you look after a frail or sick patient, they need your love, patience and care. It’s not only about a salary or about the status that your uniform brings, but it’s all about what
is in your heart. You should never do this kind of job out of desperation, but rather because it is your passion.”
Janet says her ultimate goal would be to pour this passion into establishing a day care centre for the aged. “I see so many old persons being abused and suffering on their own. With their kids working in the day and their grandchildren at school, they are left at home alone, because there is no money to place them in an old age home or in care facilities for the day.”
“I know that I will realise this dream one day, because I believe that if you want something, you should go for it. We are so scared sometimes and we let fear take over and that is why a lot of us do not go far in life. If you have a dream or a goal, connect with others and share your dreams, because you never know when you will meet someone who can help you reach that dream. And don’t ever let your age steal your dream from you,” says the 35-year-old who is proving you can build a career at any age.