Mental health has been Ububele’s passion and mandate for many years, and for many years we have proudly supported mothers and fathers, babies and children, grandparents, aunts, and uncles through mental health challenges. Our goal has always been to improve relationships between children and their caregivers, thereby promoting healthy development.
However, with the covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent impact on mental health, we were left with a burning question:
"What about Healthcare Practitioners?"
“Ububele” means kindness and compassion, and empathy is at the heart of our work. We also have a strong belief in “containing the containers.” In psychological terms, “containment” refers to the process of managing troubling thoughts and anxieties. One might picture a child playing with Lego – at the end of the game, the blocks are all over the floor, messy and chaotic. However, simply picking them up and putting them all in a box, or container, allows the room to feel organised, open, and clear. It’s similar with thoughts – often our own thoughts and anxieties can feel like Lego strewn across the floor - but with the help of another person, we can “contain” all of that, and approach each challenge with a sense of calm.
Health care workers, especially nurses, are the first containers for many of the general population. When individuals in Alexandra need physical – and often emotional – assistance, the first place they turn to is their local clinic – and the first people they find there are their local nurses.
Our Ububele team has close ties with the various clinics in Alexandra: 8th Avenue, Thoko Mngoma, 4th Avenue, Eastbank, River Park and Masekhane Clinic. In each of these clinics, we have worked with the various nurses, and gotten a sense of the unique personalities driving the health care services in that area. I know that at Thoko Mngoma there is a stern-faced nurse who, once you get to know her, has a feisty sense of humour and loves to make people laugh. At 8th Avenue, there is a nurse with a passion for economics, and he loves to offer guidance to all those he meets. At 4th Avenue, there is a nurse who has a keen eye for which mothers are struggling emotionally, and she calmly guides them towards our Baby Mat service. To the outsider each of these clinics may seem similar, but to those of us who work with them, we have seen the impact of the pandemic on these nurses – and subsequently on the patients they see. With this in mind, Ububele put together a program called “Working with Relationships.”
The idea behind “Working with Relationships” is that through nourishing the relationships Ububele has with the nurses in each clinic, we could support relationships between nurses and their patients.
The main aim of “Working with Relationships” was to contain nurses through an extremely turbulent time. This support, or “containment” would then trickle down from nurses to their patients.
The “Working with Relationships” program is a 9-week group, which takes place in the clinic. Nurses attend the group for 1 hour a week, for 9 weeks, and in this time they are offered support, empathy, and psychoeducational information about relationships and babies.
In my experience working with these nurses, I was confronted with a heart-breaking reality: our health care workers are unsupported, overburdened, and afraid. The nurses I met with shared their fears about getting sick, their worries about their families, and their deep concern for their patients. What struck me most about each nurse was the love with which they spoke about their patients: remembering patients by name, using their lunch breaks and days off to follow up with patients they were concerned about, and always trying to keep their patients safe. Alongside this deep love, was a sense of neglect. The nurses shared in anguish, anger, and anxiety that they did not remember the last time somebody has asked them “How are you?”
I have come to the end of one “Working with Relationships” program and continue with two more. In my last session with the group I completed, we spoke about whether they felt the program had an impact on them. One nurse looked at me with tears in her eyes and said,
“Ububele listened to us at a time when nobody was listening.”
Though I could not see her face behind her mask, and she could not see mine, we shared a moment of human connection and compassion.
The 12th of May is International Nurses’ Day, and on this day, Ububele honours all the nurses who make our jobs possible. The nurses who lovingly guide families to our services and who we hope to continue working with and supporting – through the pandemic and thereafter.
Ububele hopes to continue containing nurses in Alexandra – but we cannot do it without support.
Please consider donating towards a support group, which can be run in one of the clinics in Alexandra that has not yet had access to this service. Your kindness and compassion for our health care workers will have far reaching effects.
Donations can be made at https://www.ububele.org/support-us
Sable Leicher is a psychologist at The Ububele Educational and Psychotherapy Trust.