A Story of Connection & Friendship by Vivienne Allanson
“At Maroba, we choose to lead the way in dynamic and passionate aged care”.
This premise is reinforced when we see what influence we can have on others.
In 2013, Maroba’s CEO Vivienne (Viv) Allanson met Sister Lucia, a South African nun working in aged care, at IAHSA’s 2013 Global Ageing Conference in Shanghai, China. The two were introduced by Margie Van Zyl, IAHSA’s Immediate Past Board Chair, and have become fast friends and collaborators in aged care.
Viv learned that Sr. Lucia was sent to manage St. Antonine’s Home for the Aged, a poor, black, rural aged care community in KwaZulu, South Africa, even though, at the time, she had no experience or training in health or aged care. When Sr. Lucia arrived, she found St. Antonine’s in dire circumstances. She was given three months to turn it around or the government would close them down. Her qualifications in early childhood education were of little help to her in this challenge.
Years later, St. Antonine’s is thriving. Much of its growth can be attributed to Sr. Lucia’s growing passion for older people and her determination to make a difference. The work of GERATEC in assisting the implementation of the Eden Alternative at St. Antonines has also given Sr. Lucia great courage to persevere and her passion has overflowed to the international aged care community with organizations such as Maroba extending a hand of friendship.
As the friendship between Viv and Sr Lucia grows, her story is shared, attracting even more practical support from around the world. A local consultant and her daughter put their creativity to work by developing a website for St. Antonines which has been a long held dream for Sr Lucia, but not within her grasp. Many more small contributions have been made in support of St. Antonine’s, adding to the “ripple effect” of a single connection.
Time to Thrive
Since 2013, Viv and Maroba have supported St. Antonine’s from afar, sharing knowledge and expertise and fundraising to address some of the community’s most urgent needs. In 2014, the staff and residents at Maroba were so inspired by Sr. Lucia’s story that invited her to Australia for a visit. Through Maroba’s fundraising efforts, Sr. Lucia was able to travel to Australia, and, hosted by Viv, stay for four weeks to learn from the aged care community and share her story.
A bonus while in Australia, Sr. Lucia was given opportunities for public speaking. She was guest speaker for Maroba’s 60th Anniversary Celebration. She was also accepted as a speaker for the joint ACSA-IAHSA international conference held the following year in Perth and, with a CommonAge scholarship, was able to experience the conference, learn from the international community and tell the story of St. Antonines home.
With mentoring from Viv and others on issues of direction, leadership and self-confidence, Sr. Lucia was empowered to change the lives of her residents, to share her story on the international stage and to be a strong voice for justice for those in her care.
Maroba continues to support St. Antonine’s however they can. In August of 2015, Viv and a friend traveled to South Africa to visit St. Antonine’s staff and residents. Over a two-and-a-half-week program, they served Sr. Lucia’s community doing whatever was asked of them. During that time, they also helped to raise funds to install running water in St. Antonine’s 100-bed facility to replace the pots of water they carry on their heads to where it is needed. Now the home is not only able to provide water to its residents, but also to a nearby kindergarten and others in need.
The team painted the residents dining room among many other daily tasks to support staff and residents of the facility whilst staying at the home. It was a life-changing experience–a great opportunity to build new relationships and to experience the generous and gracious hospitality of Sr. Lucia’s staff and residents.
One of the things that struck Viv during her visit was the smell of urine within the community (even though the care and cleaning regime was very thorough) and the visible signs of incontinence amongst the 70 plus residents.
Unfortunately for the residents, it was a matter of choosing between food or incontinence aids. The funding from the government is 100 RAN per month for each resident and the resident contributes the same amount. After that, it is a matter of goodwill and donations. Some of the residents have HIV, sadly passed on by grandsons who are taught by the village witchdoctor that they can be cured by raping their grandmother or a young child. (In 2016 this still happens.) St. Antonine’s rescues many older women and some men also, from abusive situations where little is understood about disease and ageing. In fact when someone develops Dementia it is often thought they are witches, and they are left to die or are mamed in some way.
St. Antonines is not only a home for the aged but a refuge for the poorest of the poor who, if left in their family setting, will continue to suffer unspeakable abuse and neglect.
Viv is now seeking to further extend the “ripple effect” of this friendship by finding a donor of incontinence aids for St. Antonines. She is also planning a return trip to visit Sr. Lucia and her St. Antonine’s family in 2017.
Viv Allanson was promoted from the Executive Director of Nursing position to the position of CEO of Maroba in 2000. Whilst beginning her career in the Public Health sector she has not looked back since she made the move to Aged care in 1992. Her qualifications are numerous including a Master of Health Management. She has served on the IAHSA Board of Directors since 2013.