The Covid-19 pandemic that has changed our world in ways none of us could have ever imaged, and the human race is being tested every day. Our ability to adapt, our faith and our strength as community continues to be challenged.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, as women, we had multi-faceted roles as the giver of life, the nourisher, the caregiver and the backbone to any support structure, be it our families or work places. We played these roles with ease, with our deep-rooted sense of determination, compassion, love, strength, humility and our ability to multi-task.
But are we as women still able to thrive in these roles during a global pandemic (plus load shedding and an economic crisis)? Yes. As women, we able rise to the challenge, time and time again. We are warriors who fight for ourselves, our families, our friends and colleagues, our communities and fellow South Africans.
I reached out to some of the Hindu warriors in our community fighting on the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic so that we can highlight their challenges this Women’s Day in a 2 part series. I was honoured to connect with a doctor, social care workers, an audiologist, a journalist, a police captain and a teacher. The one thing that I found in common was that they all wear their professional badges with pride despite the challenges because they have a calling to serve their communities.
Sheethal Ramrethan : Chief Audiologist at the Pietermaritzburg Assessment and Therapy Centre
Sheethal Ramrethan is the Chief Audiologist at the Pietermaritzburg Assessment and Therapy Centre which is a public health care facility. At work, limited space makes it difficult to practice safe social distancing. Limited resources and staff training have also made fighting the pandemic that much harder. Despite these difficulties, her team has rallied together. Sheethal told me that she has been overwhelmed by the support and camaraderie between her colleagues during this time. She keeps herself motivated to do the work she does by remembering the oath she took to serve her patients above all else. Personally, she describes her biggest challenge over these last few months as finding a balance between work and home, particularly without her usual “luxury” of having a helper at home. Sheethal also sadly experienced the loss of her Uncle Steven, a father figure in her life, during the lock down. Not being to attend the funeral nor comfort her loved ones as she normally would have made her loss that much harder. For her, the daily recital of the Hanuman Chalisa provides her with the strength through these tough moments.
Kogilambal (“Kogi”) Govender: Educator at Savannah Park Secondary
Kogilambal (“Kogi”) Govender is an educator at Savannah Park Secondary. Like most educators, the biggest challenge for her was suddenly losing the personal interaction she had with her learners. There was no Plan B as to how she and her colleagues would teach their leaners remotely. There was increased panic between the teachers, learners and parents when the government extended the lock down period. But Kogi devised and implemented the Plan B: Whatsapp groups were created to connect the educators and the leaners, photographs of school readers were shared with parents for those families who did not have access to printers, voice notes were recorded so that lessons could be relayed and revision programmes were scheduled for learners, even on Saturdays. Kogi told me that she is a Shiv devotee and finds her inner strength to overcome these challenges by chanting and fasting. These are but some the methods which Kogi had to quickly devise and adapt so the well-being and the education of the learners at her school would not be compromised.
Captain Poomeshni Govender
For Captain Poomeshni Govender, being part of the police force during the pandemic has been challenging. But she keeps herself motivated every day with her children in mind. Poomeshni told me that by doing so, her fight against crime on our streets and communities make her work more fulfilling. Poomeshni finds that her biggest challenge is trying to run a household and being a mom with odd hour working shifts. She has also had to sacrifice the comfort of visiting her mother for the last few months because of her high-risk working environment. I asked her whether she felt any community prejudice because of her profession being high risk. Poomeshni told me that surprisingly, her community is very supportive of her role and is appreciative of her service. Whilst they may keep a physical distance, their telephone calls provide a lot of comfort. Poomeshni told me that constant prayer keeps her sane and out of harms way when she ventures out on the streets to fight crime.
Dr Netisha Dukhi
I also spoke to Dr Netisha Dukhi who works in the public health sector. She describes the hospitals and health care workers as being overwhelmed during the pandemic. She attributes this to a shortage of staff and the disproportionate ratio of the number of patients verses space occupancy (beds/wards). Even though Netisha and her colleagues have been provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), there is always the overarching concern about them contracting the virus themselves and worse, spreading to their loved ones. Netisha told me that the universal value of ubuntu and Good Clinical Practice is adopted at the hospital to prioritise community’s needs. This, however, has been challenging to practice given work overload. Fortunately, everyone from the management and hospital staff have all risen in unison with dedication and commitment to achieve these goals and combat the pandemic. This motivates Netishato do her work. After all, she says, saving lives is one of the most rewarding experiences of her life. Netisha told me that her personal indulgences which are keeping her sane during this time are daily prayers for her family and patients, chocolate, Leo her puppy and Netflix.
Connecting with these Hindu women from different walks of life, I have found that they have in common the ability to adapt quickly to this avalanche of change which the pandemic brought with it. They continue to thrive in their respective roles as an audiologist, an educator, a policewoman and a doctor despite the challenges of the pandemic. The personal sacrifices which they have made to keep their families safe whilst they serve the greater community is exemplary. So, this Women’s Day, we salute Sheethal Ramrethan, Kogilambal (“Kogi”) Govender, Captain Poomeshni Govender and Dr Netisha Dukhi.
COVID-19 WARRIORS : PART 2
During the Covid-19 pandemic we have been faced with experiences and hardships we did not expect to ever face in our lifetime, globally and within our communities closer to home. We have come thus far (almost 5 months into the lock down) all a little more tired and frustrated, lonely but still hopeful. We are hopeful that a cure for the virus will be found, that we can all be vaccinated and that we can go back to our “normal lives”. But we do not know when this will be, and the road ahead may be longer than we expect.
As Hindu women, we have reached deep within our inner reserves to find the inner strength carry on as best as we can, inspired by the spiritual. As mothers have reached deep within to see to our families, to still be able to provide them with environments of love and protection, despite this surreal new reality. But over and above our families, we have had to still function in the “real world” by returning to work or continue working from home. This ongoing act of juggling home and work on the same site is challanging. We rise to this challenge as we are warriors who fight for ourselves, our families, our friends and colleagues, our communities and fellow South Africans.
As part of Women’s Month during the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought it would be important to share with the community the experiences of our hero Hindu Front Line Warriors. I reached out to some of the warriors in our community fighting the Covid-19 pandemic in different forms so that we can highlight their fight this Women’s Day in a 2 part series. I was honoured to connect with an audiologist, a doctor, social care workers, a journalist, a police captain and a teacher. These women have risen to the challenge, time and time again.
Kerisha Pillay – TAFTA Nursing Services Manager: Home Based Care
I spoke to Kerisha Pillay, a Nursing Services Manager: Home Based Care who works with the elderly at The Association For The Aged (TAFTA). Kerisha described her experience of living through the Covid-19 pandemic as experiencing a tornado! For her and her colleagues, her biggest challenge is not having enough hours in the day to do their work with stretched resources. There are also those caregivers who sacrificed not staying with their own families to stay at the TAFTA facilities to reduce the risks of transmission. They are also reliant on generous sponsors for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Kerisha also spoke with pride about the spirit of teamwork amongst all TAFTA staff. When TAFTA had their first confirmed Covid-19 case, the staff from other homes rallied around Kerisha and her team. This selfless act despite their own work responsibilities and limited resources restored her faith in humanity and how we can all pull together in times of crisis.
Personally, being from a close knit family has meant that during the ongoing lock down she has needed to sacrifice spending that time with them including not being able to celebrate her 3 year old daughter’s birthday. I asked Kerisha what kept her motivated and she told me that she receives endless gratitude and blessings from the elders for whom she takes care. This motivates her to perform at 200% everyday, and fills her with a feeling of completeness. Kerisha and her family turn to daily prayer to keep them safe and healthy during this trying time.
Karinda Jagmohan – Newzroom Afrika journalist
Karinda Jagmohan, a Newzroom Afrika journalist, described her biggest challenge as struggling to maintain a healthy state of mind while at the same time witnessing and reporting the national and international health and economic crises. The fast-paced news cycle within which Karinda works has meant that she takes the hits as they come. There is no time available to her to internalise her own emotions of the pandemic as there is always the race against the clock for her next story. Karinda knows that by doing by the work she does, she and her fellow journalists are recording history. But most of the time, she feels that many people “want to kill the messenger”.
Her work is high risk so she has already made contingency plans if she had to get infected. She is also doing her best protect her parents and help them understand the severity of the virus, and the importance of taking precautionary steps themselves. She feels that change of mindset amongst the elderly is important – they are not as immune to the virus as they may think, and this is critical if we want to fight the disease.
Karinda and her colleagues have been stigmatised by doing the work which they do. When Karinda took a week’s annual leave, some of her sources turned down interviews because they were under the impression that she was Covid-19 positive. Her colleagues who have recovered from Covid-19 are still ostracized on the field. . I asked Karinda what motivated to keep reporting every day and she told me that every day presents its own reason, be it to combat fake news or help an individual or family obtain a sense of justice. Her one personal indulgence which Karinda manages to squeeze in is sleep.
Meela Bangtu – Social Worker at the Aryan Benevolent Home
I also soke to Meela Bangtu who is a social worker working with children at the Aryan Benevolent Home (ABH) in Chatsworth. ABH houses children by providing a loving, caring home for those who have been neglected, abused, orphaned or abandoned. With the closure of schools during the lock down, the children of ABH were homebound during the day as well. Meela told me that volunteers came to assist at ABH to create an environment conducive to teaching and learning at very short notice. Now, they have practically a fully functional school for the ABH children. Her biggest challenge now is to getting her learners to abide by the mandatory requirements of social distancing and wearing of masks to keep themselves and the staff safe.Meela described working with underprivileged children as her passion. Her goal every day is to creating future leaders by instilling good values and morals in the ABH children. To put a smile on their faces and to uplift their spirits gives her great joy and satisfaction. Personally, her biggest sacrifice during the pandemic has not been able to see and interact with her family. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Meela has turned to prayer and meditation to provide her with inner strength.
Meela, Kerisha and Kerinda may be very different in their work – but they each have an individual sense of purpose to drive them. Their inner callings to serve those around them have led them to rise to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. The personal sacrifices which these Hindu women have made to serve their communities are outstanding. This Women’s Day, we salute Meela Bangtu, Karinda Jagmohan and Kerisha Pillay.
Article by – Mrs Sabina Besesar