“A spark is something that gives your life meaning and purpose. It’s an interest, a passion, or a gift” (Dr. Peter Benson) (Benson, 2008).
Before traveling to South Africa, the extent of my knowledge of the work that community health workers (CHWs) provide their patients was limited and elementary. After researching about South Africa’s health care system, I learned that the lack of skilled health workers (SHWs) has influenced the importance of the utilization of CHWs to deliver care to patients, especially those who are homebound. Without more health care workers, the burden of care will continue to be placed on nurses and CHWs (Maddison & Schlech, 2010) Nurses play a vital role concerning health care in South Africa, and are the backbone of the South African health system. The nurse population in South Africa comprises the largest single group of health service providers and plays a vital role in promoting health to their patients. Unfortunately, because of burnout and better opportunities in more populated cities, many nurses leave the rural South African areas and work in the United Kingdom (UK) or larger cities in South Africa. The shortage of nurses makes the role of CHWs even more vital when caring for people stricken with HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases, such as cancer and tuberculosis (Brier, Wildschut & Mgqolozana, 2009).
During our focus groups that were held at clinics near Thohoyandou, Limpopo Province, South Africa, I was able to listen to several CHWs discuss how they deliver supportive care to their patients. I noticed that they spoke with such fervor and conviction because they were taking care of not only their patients but their families as well. Their delivery of care transcends physical needs; in conjunction, they provide care that caters to their patients’ emotional and spiritual needs as well. While captivated by their stories, I also observed that their love for their jobs were shown in their body movements and on their faces. Their faces glowed as they poured out their hearts concerning the care they extend to their patients. They had a spark. Not only were they committed to their jobs, but they were also committed to their calling as CHWs. After reflecting on the stories I heard, I wondered if I would possess the spark to keep striving even when faced with uncontrollable circumstances on the job or in my personal life. Could I exude such care and drive in my work even when I have to travel two or three hours to get to work, like many of the CHWs? Would I be just as exuberant as the CHWs are if I did not get paid, as some of them are not compensated for their work? And when all is said and done, will my spark shine so brightly that it influences others to find and share theirs?
– Lillian Ware
Benson, P. (2008). Sparks: How parents can ignite the hidden strengths of teenagers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Breier M, Wildschut A and Mgqolozana T. (2009). Nursing in a new era: The profession and education of nurses in South Africa. Cape Town: HSRC Press.
Maddison, A. R., & Schlech, W. F. (2010). Will universal access to antiretroviral therapy ever be possible? The health care worker challenge. The Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases & Medical Microbiology, 21(1), e64–e69.