Visiting a health centre at Lenjuru Village, about 45km from Kongwa District Council headquarters, I was not so surprised to hear that a nursing officer whom I met a week ago at a district hospital and later at a vaccination campaign is well known to villagers.
Upon my arrival at the health centre, I quickly pulled out my digital camera to show the village women, who had come to the centre to vaccinate their children, a picture of the health practitioner vaccinating children. My tactic was to win their minds so that I could talk to them and interview some of them.
“She is Yohanamaria...we know her well,” say the village women in a cheerful mood.
The words of an American author Mandy Hale, who once wrote “There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others”, came into my mind. I just had to meet Yohanamariagracia to know more about her work.
Reproductive health officer in Kongwa district, Dodoma region, Yohanamariagracia, is a famous figure to rural dwellers. Her journey to become a health practitioner is what drew my attention.
When her mother was transferred from Dodoma to another region in 1985, Yohanamariagracia, a then form three student, had to look for a hostel to stay for her to continue with studies.
She had been schooling at Dodoma Secondary when her mother was transferred. It was a big blow for her as she had been looking forward to finishing her secondary education at the same school. She however managed to secure accommodation at Huruma Hostels, boarding facilities run by the Roman Catholic Church in Dodoma.
Life at the hostel proved to be very fruitful for her. Together with one of the nuns who was a matron at the facility, Yohanamariagrasia used to visit the sick.
It was during her stay at the nun’s facility and the frequent visits to the sick at various hospitals that thoughts of her becoming a health practitioner came into mind. “One day while at Dodoma Regional Hospital, I saw an old man, whose eyes had been operated on. He needed some help to move but there was no one to offer him a hand. He couldn’t see his way through the ward,” recalled Yohanamariagrasia, saying she felt sorry for the old man.
“If I were a nurse I could have helped the old man,” she recalled telling the nun.
Almost some 30 years after the incident, Yohanamariagrasia says she still has the image of the old sick man in her mind. “I’m not sure if he is still alive, but the incident is still fresh in my mind,” she says.
Knowing that Yohanamariagrasia had a kind heart and was willing to help those in need, the nun who used to go with her to visit sick people, asked Yohanamariagrasia to join some of form four students who were going to sit for an exam to join nursing.
Despite the fact that she was by then in her form three studies, she agreed to take up the challenge and sat for the exams. Surprisingly, she was the only candidate who was selected to join the nursing course. Not a single candidate who was in form four passed the exam.
“I was very happy. The nun was happy too. She asked me to get ready and start a nursing course at Rubya Health Training Institute in Muleba district, Kagera region. I was very ambitious with my studies. I always dreamt about being a nurse and I felt very lucky to get the opportunity,” she says.
After securing enrolment at the health institute, Yohanamariagrasia had to decide between continuing with her secondary school education at Dodoma Secondary School of which she had only one year remaining for her to complete or join the nursing course. It was a difficult decision for Yohanamariagracia to make. However, finally she listened to her heart and went for the nursing course.
She had joined Dodoma Secondary School in 1983 as a form one student, she decided to cut short her secondary education in 1985 when she was in form three.
Though, ready as she was to join the nursing college, Yohanamariagracia had challenges of meeting college expenses because she didn’t have everything she needed to go to the college. Thanks to the nuns at Huruma Hostels, they prepared everything to support her four-year stay at the health institution. She joined the nursing college in 1986 and successfully completed her four-year course in 1989.
Soon after she completed her nursing studies, she was posted at a workstation in Bukoba. However, she opted to go back to Dodoma Region and was assigned as a midwife at Kondoa District Hospital in 1990 where she worked until 1997.
Despite securing employment as a public servant, her dream to complete secondary education was still alive. While working at the district hospital, Yohanamariagrasia registered as a private candidate, joined evening classes and wrote her form four examinations in 2004 and passed with flying colours.
Yohanamariagrasia, a mother of two, who has been in the health sector for the past 29 years, says she has fallen in love with nursing; a job that she does with all her heart, mind and soul. For her, treating the sick, helping and teaching people about health issues has been the order of the day for her, making an impact in the lives of those who are infirm.
“I love what I am doing,” says Yohanamariagrasia, a graduate with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from the Dodoma-based St. John’s University, who is currently working at the Kongwa District Hospital as a Reproductive health officer, says she is happy to see that she has an influence in the quality of life of children at all stages and their progress from adolescence, adulthood and to old age.
Apart from medical treatment and health issues, she usually teaches those who visit the hospital especially during baby clinics on better ways of raising their children.
“My job is also to ensure the well-being of the whole family. In this case it is important to talk about how parents raise their children.
Parents have the responsibility to raise their children and teach good manners, giving them life skills at a tender age and help them build life skills that will enable them overcome, avoid and get through obstacles they would encounter in life,” she urges.
Yohanamariagrasia says she is happy to see she is making an impact, especially to rural communities, which she frequently visits during awareness campaigns on sexual and reproductive health.
“Whenever I see a husband accompanying his wife to the clinic, I grab the opportunity and talk to them about the importance of both of them attending baby clinics.
“I never make a mistake. I talk to them about everything that concerns the well-being of the family and the unborn child,” she says.
“Nursing is a calling,” says Yohanamariagrasia, adding that it needs one to be devoted to becoming a health practitioner.
“Very few people who opt for nursing courses are dedicated to serve the people. Most of them just join the profession because they know that they will secure employment to sustain their lives,” she says.
“A real nurse is the one who does their job whole heartedly. There are lots of complaints from our patients that we never take this job seriously; some patients have lost lives due to negligence by nurses. When working with sick people we must know that at times a patient needs love, care and support. Instead of using abusive language or being rude to patients, let us be humble and treat them in a good way,” she advices.
Yohanamariagracia urges health practitioners to be humble and nice to people knowing that they will one day they too will need to receive medical treatment.