Bara's boiler feeder encourages youth

Joyce Tshabalala hard at work in the boiler room at Chris Baragwanath Hospital. (Photo: DID)

Joyce Tshabalala hard at work in the boiler room at Chris Baragwanath Hospital. (Photo: DID)

Joyce Tshabalala has a hungry boiler to feed. A proud employee of the Department of Infrastructure Development (DID), Tshabalala became assistant boiler operator at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in 2002. Inspired to learn more about her field, she furthered her training and became a qualified boiler operator in 2004.

The development of women and giving them access to opportunities is one of DID’s priorities. Its aim is also to do away with the stereotypes that have historically prevented women from participating actively in all facets of the life of their country, including areas previously reserved for males.

Joyce Tshabalala’s passion for her work has burnt like the coal that burns in the boilers she tends, creating the essential steam that is used in virtually every ward, operating theatre, kitchen and laundry in the hospital. Boilers, she says, are the most important section of a hospital.

Her workday starts with checking that the quality of the water that goes into the boilers complies with standard operating procedures. The water is kept separate and sterilised with salt. As she conducts a tour of the boiler room she beams with pride, demonstrating the importance of following the correct procedures.

The 49-year-old mother of two climbs to the top of the boiler with such energy she makes the job look easy. As she feeds coal into the boiler she peers into the eyelet through which she can see the bright orange flame that tells her there is enough heat in the boiler to melt a steel spade. Tending boilers is a technical skill that requires a thorough and well-trained operator. Apart from feeding them with coal and manning the hot ash separator, the operator must monitor a number of electrical controls.

“Each operator must monitor various pressure gauges, ensuring that there is enough pressure to prevent the boilers from bursting. We also monitor the temperature inside the boiler as too much or too little will also cause the boiler to burst,” she explains.

Tshabalala is constantly aware that her work is the heart of the hospital. “Without steam, babies in the neo-natal ward will suffer, and so will their mothers and all other patients,” she says.

It is evident that her male colleagues respect her work ethic. They hang with awe onto every word she says during the interview and have complied with her demand that they treat her the same way they do the men they work with, offering her no special treatment.

“This job is physically demanding, but I love what I do,” says an excited Tshabalala, who is looking forward to encouraging young women to take up the career which plays such an important part in preserving the lifeblood of the hospital. She encourages the youth of Gauteng to believe in themselves and to accept challenges, no matter how huge they might seem.

Women bridge the technical divide to help maintain hospitals
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”.

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