Thembalami Care Centre manager Esme van der Walt with Ayanda Matthews, Rand Aid’s GM: Compliance and Social React Division.
Nurturing comes naturally to new Thembalami Care Centre manager Esme van der Walt, who says she is a born carer.
She joined the Rand Aid Association family at the beginning of May 2019 and says she is impressed with the lovely, large gardens, the beautifully appointed care centre and its embracing of the Eden Alternative philosophy, which sees ageing as a new chapter in a person’s life rather than a period of decline.
“Elders need to be acknowledged for their immense knowledge, the richness of their past and the value they bring to society,” she says.
“They should be viewed as individuals with their owns likes, dislikes and interests rather than as residents or patients.
“I admire Rand Aid’s levels of care and its vision to improve the lives of the elderly.”
A resident of Johannesburg South and animal lover – especially her pair of character-filled dachshunds, both rescues – Esme nursed both her parents prior to their passing away.
Having witnessed the failing health of her parents, she says she has great empathy not only for the elders who live at Thembalami, but also their family members.
Esme started nursing at age 21 after graduating from the SG Lourens Nursing College in Pretoria, where she focused on midwifery, psychiatric nursing and general and community nursing. She went on to obtain a Diploma in Intensive Nursing Science from the BJ Alexander School of Nursing in Johannesburg before working as a nurse in the public sector.
Esme spent some time working abroad but returned to care for her father when he got very ill.
She soon obtained a position with the Chevrah Kadisha Group, a well-established Johannesburg Jewish organisation, and began a journey with them that would last nearly 17 years. She progressed through the ranks, moving from nursing services manager to the general manager of Sandringham Gardens, which is home to around 400 elders.
In her time there, she gained valuable insights into the needs of elders from a medical, nursing, rehabilitation, social and psychosocial perspective.
In January, Esme decided it was time for a change and after tendering her resignation, she took a well-deserved break. Her hiatus was cut short, however, when Rand Aid decided she was the ideal person to take over the management of Thembalami Care Centre, which incorporates the Max Ordman Deaf Association.
One of her priorities will be steering the centre towards Eden Alternative registration. In 2016, Rand Aid’s Ron Smith Care Centre became the first organisation in Gauteng – and the second in Africa – to become a member of Eden Alternative South Africa registry and the 116-year-old NPO is now rolling out the philosophy to its four retirement villages and to Thembalami, which it hopes will achieve registration towards the end of 2019.
“The Eden Alternative philosophy resonates with me. I want elders to be respected, loved, cared for and given their rightful place in society. I do not see age but rather life stage and purpose,” she says, explaining that she believes working with older persons is her calling.
Esme says she is a great believer of the power of teamwork. “No matter your job level, we are united by a common goal and all have something to contribute when it comes to addressing the challenges faced by the elders in our care, including loneliness, isolation, boredom and the loss of independence.”