Odette Robyn looks content as she sits down in the head nurse’s office at Geluksoord, a retirement home in Stellenbosch, to talk about how her life has changed over the last two years following a chance encounter with a Bergzicht alumnus she only knows as Beulah.
“I remember sitting in church one day and a nurse got up and started testifying about how her work with the elderly had changed her life. Something about what she said made me go up to her after the service and talk to her and that’s when she gave me Bergzicht Training’s number,” says 26-year old Odette.
Before that life-changing moment, she says, her life was in shambles and she spent her days addicted to alcohol.
“I spent about four to five years at home, drinking. During that time I also became pregnant with my daughter, Jay-Lee. Shortly after she was born, I got a big shock when tests revealed that she had Down Syndrome. I was young and I had no idea what to do. Not too long after that, her father, Devon, who was addicted to drugs died due to kidney failure,” explains Odette as the tears start rolling down her face.
Clad in her nurse assistant’s uniform, she explains that the pain is still very raw at times.
The trauma of discovering that Jay-Lee had a disability, which would require her to have access to schools that catered to kids with special needs and proper support to aid her development, as well as the sudden death of her partner caused Odette to start suffering from anxiety and panic attacks.
“My mother really helped me a lot during that time, so much so that she left her job to look after my daughter,” says Odette.
Four years after Jay-Lee was born, Odette was still drinking and became pregnant again. This time, she was blessed with a boy, Johnwin, who is currently three.
“I was trying to work through the grief and trauma and drank a lot. My mom and stepdad are converted and tried to speak to me about my drinking, but I would not listen. I just kept on drinking more and more.”
It was only when she heard Beulah speak in church on that Sunday in 2014 that Odette’s salvation came.
“I really would not be here today without Bergzicht,” she says.
It’s hard to believe that Odette’s life took such a bad turn when she talks about her life growing up on Digtebij Farm in Vlottenburg with her mother, aunt and grandmother. When her grandmother died, the family moved from her late grandmother’s house to an aunt’s house on the same farm. A few years later, her mother got married and Odette moved into a new home with her mother and her stepdad.
“I did really well [academically] at primary school and was very good in English and even played netball,” says Odette as she recounts her childhood.
“However, in Grade 9, I started mixing with the wrong crowd and started cutting classes so often that I eventually decided to leave school. It wasn’t because I was struggling [academically] at school, it was a case of following the wrong crowd and wanting to do what was popular. When I look back on that today, I regret doing that.”
In 2013, she eventually took the bold step to turn her life around and gave up alcohol. By January 2014, she was enrolled for the Life Skills course at Bergzicht Training and would later also complete Home Management and Health and Frail Care Programmes.
While there, she also connected with her former principal at Stellenzicht High, Mr Justin Newman, who now teaches Life Skills to students at Bergzicht.
“To be honest, I did not really take Life Skills that serious at first. I often fell asleep in class, so much so that Ms Ingrid Andrews caught me a couple of times. I felt like I was being taught basic skills I already knew, yet I realised later that these skills were important to know [to find a job],” says Odette.
“One day in class we started speaking about self image and I realised that I had spent my entire life feeling as if I was not good enough and this had made me shy and withdrawn. I slowly learnt to think differently about myself and actually started liking myself.”
Today, the shy woman who spent her days drinking to forget the pain and challenges in her life is pouring her heart and soul into realising another dream.
“When I was little, I wanted to be a doctor, but because I did not finish school and we did not have the finances for me to go to university, my second choice was to become a nurse. Again, we did not have the finances for me to do that.
“Today, I am able to work as a nurse’s assistant and take care of elderly persons living here at Geluksoord. It really is a dream come true and a privilege to be able to do this kind of work. I still plan to follow my dream of becoming a nurse one day though.”
The skills she was taught at Bergzicht, says Odette, has helped her to execute her tasks as a nurse assistant very well.
“For example, when we fed patients who could not feed themselves during our training, we were taught to tell those patients what were feeding them before starting the [assisted] feeding process. I am also learning how to do other things, like how to easily assist a patient to get dressed, from the nursing staff at Geluksoord.”
As she gets up to head to the room of a resident in order to measure his blood pressure, she says: “You know, when I look back at the kind of person I was back then, I realise how irresponsible I was. Today, after deciding to give my heart to Jesus, I place all my decisions in His hands. I am no longer just thinking about Odette. Now I am thinking about my children too.”