Women bridge the technical divide to help maintain hospitals
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Many young women now undertake jobs that were previously the exclusive domain of men. We feature some of those who are plying their trade at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.
Bongi Dumakude, a participant in the National Youth Service (NYS), a programme which gives 4 000 youths the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills in various areas of the public service, has technical veins in her system. She speaks proudly about the opportunity to gain practical training and knowledge of the working of medical gas, air conditioning, refrigerators and fitters at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.
Dumakude works under the guidance of experienced artisans in the biggest hospital in the southern hemisphere, where, side by side with men, she contributes to the preservation of precious life. She points out that medical gas is supplied to critical areas of the hospital such as the pharmacy, the mortuary and the kitchen.
“I feel proud to be doing work that was historically preserved for males,” she says. “Working with men and doing maintenance on steam pipes and vacuum pumps used by medical staff in theatres has helped me to gain very important skills and to also grow as a person.”
Itumeleng Sebolediso, a participant in the Accelerated Artisans Training Programme (AATP), specialises in plumbing. She has been trained in the installation and maintenance of pipes, manholes, bathrooms and ablution facilities. Maintenance, she says, gives her an opportunity to be creative in dealing with different materials to maintain infrastructure.
Sthembiso Mbuyisa, a trainee painter, is preparing for a painting job in the corridors of the hospital. Her training includes marking and stencilling wards, machinery and bedding. She describes the different kinds of paint and the importance of neatness. Mbuyisa would like to encourage more females to explore this field of work.
The young Zanele Nkosi, a trainee carpenter, speaks about the need to be accurate and meticulous when taking measurements before preparing and cutting boards and other wood for the repair of ceilings and roofing, doors cupboards and hinges, a job she does throughout the hospital. She also speaks of the need to take precautions and to adhere to safety measures since “we are working with sensitive and dangerous equipment which needs to be handled with care”.
Elsie Masandiwa holds an N6 in Civil Engineering and is passionate about bricklaying. She proudly shows off some of the work she has done, including the tiling in Ward 22 and the Renal Unit at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the construction of the manhole next to the doctors’ quarters and the patching of potholes at the entrance to the St John’s Eye Hospital, all within the Baragwanath precinct. Masandiwa also does paving and building, and is anxious to see other youngsters to take up the trade “because it would help them to be self-reliant and they might even start up their own enterprises some day”.
Enter Nomusa Tshifhumulo, a qualified boiler operator, who is one of two NYS coordinators stationed at the hospital. It is not hard to tell that she is a technical mother figure to both male and female youths participating in the programme and stationed at health institutions in Lenasia, Zola and Carletonville. Tshifhumulo says technical trades such as bricklaying, boiler making, plumbing, painting, carpentry and air-conditioning and refrigeration all come together to form “a tree of service”.