Do you love helping people? Are you a kind, patient person with a big heart? Have you thought about becoming a carer? A carer is someone who usually works in a person’s house (although you might work in a bigger institution such as a retirement village). You help your patient, often an elderly or disabled person, with their daily needs such as feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, lifting and moving and administering medication to them. It might include some light housekeeping tasks, such as dusting, vacuuming and changing bed linen.
We interviewed a young carer, Miriam, to find out more about this career.
1. Who are you caring for at the moment?
I am a private carer and I look after a 66-year-old disabled patient. She can’t do anything for herself, no dressing, bathing and she has to wear a nappy. I have to give her lunch and give her medicine. My patient is able to work online so she is still working doing IT projects but she has a disease that has made her too weak to look after herself now.
2. Why did you decide to become a carer?
When I was growing up I wanted to be a nurse. I had a dream of wearing a uniform and I have a heart that loves to help people. I started working as a cleaner because my parents died when I was young. One day, when I was on my way to my cleaning job, I saw a woman who was struggling to walk; she was holding onto the wall and my heart said that I must help her. She told me that she had had a stroke but that I was the first person who had ever offered to help her. She asked for my phone number and then she called me to come and help her. Later on I also started to look after her 93-year-old mother.
3. How did you qualify to become a carer?
I finished school in Form 4 in Zimbabwe which is the same as Grade 11 in South Africa. I did English, Maths, Science, Biology, my own home language, Commerce and Sewing. English is very important for communication. Once I decided to become a carer, I did 4 months of theory at a private college (mostly on weekends so that I could still work). I then had to do 200 hours of practical work. You need to work both the morning and evening shift so that you learn what needs to be done at different times of the day. I did my practical at the Evergreen Retirement Village. The practicals are on everything: medication, bathing, feeding etc. You work with different groups of people such as frail people or those who have dementia so that you understand their different needs.
4. What qualities do you need to become a carer?
You need a nice heart that feels for people. Some people think that carers get paid a lot of money but you must like the job first. It can be challenging. You need to be someone who is energetic. If somebody falls you must be able to lift up him or her. You need to be able to speak English because you must be able to communicate.
5. What are the challenges of the job?
Patients can be in a lot of pain and when they are sick there are a lot of things that happen. When they are in pain, I also feel in pain – it affects me. If they don’t want to eat, then I also don’t want to eat. For me it’s not a good time. I have had three deaths in 4 years. When someone dies there is a lot of crying and I am alone. It can be difficult. I had three men whose mother died and they were crying and couldn’t control themselves. The carer is not allowed to cry. I had to cover her and close her eyes.
I was 17-years-old when my mother died. She had meningitis which lasted for 2 weeks. It was terrible. The nurses didn’t come and my mother said she was dying. It was very painful and I haven’t forgotten this experience so I do have things I can say to a family when they are grieving.
6. Why do you do this job if it is, at times, so painful for you?
There is a belief in my culture that if you do good things you will receive blessings. When my patient says ‘thank you’ to me, I’m creating blessings on the way. If you do good work, you do good to yourself too. I meet new people in life and even when they are dying we have a good farewell with people and we are at peace.
Sometimes you are busy but not all the time. I can take the patients for a walk to the park or do exercise with them. I can also be a pop-in carer. I’m not there all the time. I can give them breakfast and then come in later to give them lunch. Then, I go back and give them dinner and their medicine and bath them. I can do other work in-between.
7. Can you make a decent living from being a carer?
Yes, I do. When I was cleaning I was working many hours Monday to Friday. But in caring I only work in the morning, afternoon and evening. I have more time to rest after doing some hard work and I earn a better salary. Sometimes, after someone has died, the families give you a present (if you have done a good job – not that I expect it!).
Be nice to people, love the job. Don’t involve yourself if you don’t love the job.
I’m a single mom and I’m able to save to buy a car. I have passed my driver’s test. This will mean that I can drive to my patients’ houses.
8. What advise do you have for young people?
They need to finish school to matric. Young children must learn as much as they can. I was lucky that I can do practical things. I can sew so I can help my patients by putting in a hem and sewing on buttons. I’ve also learnt to grow fresh veggies for my patients. It helps to have a driver’s licence.
9. What are your plans for the future?
I still want to study a little bit more. My aim is to be a qualified nurse. I have my driver’s licence now.
In order to be a carer I got my Level 1 and level 2 certificate. I’m going to do the 3rd and 4th level but fees are a problem. I might use my car for Uber or Taxify and then I can
save the money to study next year.
My ultimate aim or hope is to create a big group of carers who have done the course. If they don’t have references, then with my experience I can teach them the practical work and then recommend them. We can be a big group of people working together. People know that they can trust me so if I recommend someone to them they can trust that.
It was a great experience to meet Miriam. She is a vibrant, enthusiastic young woman whose warm heart shines brightly and I have no doubt that she will achieve her goals. Despite the difficulties she has experienced in her life she remains passionate about caring for others.
Although the concept of caring for people in their homes might be a relatively new job in South Africa, there are over 8 million people working as carers in the United Kingdom and over 1 million of these people care for more than one person. It is definitely a profession to think about as long as your heart is in the work. As Miriam has told us, it’s not always easy emotionally.
If you want to study to be a carer here are some places you can study at:
The South African Red Cross Society
(Approved by the Department of Labour)
Tel: +27 10 020 2516
Tel: 084 313 2096
(5 days unaccredited introductory course)
Tel: 021 461 8420 (Cape Town) Other campuses – see website below – ‘contact us’ page
(Health Care Assistant Course)
Century City, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 830 5830
Once you have completed your accredited training, you need to register as a caregiver for older persons at your nearest department of social development office.
You must possess a certificate that indicates that you received your training from an institution accredited by the South African Qualification Authority. Please check with the training service provided that they are accredited. See https://www.gov.za/services/retirement-and-old-age/register-caregiver-older-persons for more information regarding the registration process.
Tell us: Are you a person, like Miriam, who loves caring for others? Would you be interested in pursuing a career as a carer?