Grow Great Champions (GGC) Master Trainer Bernardette Robertson had always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives since she was a teenager. Her desire to care for others, especially in times of need, would see her move from her hometown of Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast to Johannesburg after matriculating.
She later became a nurse after obtaining her diploma in Midwifery, Psychiatry, Community and General Nursing in 1996 from the BG Alexander Nursing College. Her love for nursing and eagerness to take on new challenges saw her earning additional qualifications in Call Centre Management, HIV Clinical Management, and Corporate Governance. When she got the opportunity to join GGC as a master trainer, she did not hesitate to grab it as she believed that her experience in the health sector would be useful in the role.
“We (nurses) rarely worried about measuring children’s height while doing community health work, and so I was so keen on taking up this opportunity. A start-up organisation has fewer people, so everybody’s role is important, and we try to work efficiently. Based on my health background, I became the master trainer for GGC, and I truly love what I am doing, it is so fulfilling and so rewarding helping community health workers achieve their goals,” she says.
“Sister B”, as she is often referred to by her GGC and Grow Great colleagues, is responsible for the development and operation of community worker clubs in various regions and training Community Health Workers (CHWs) across South Africa in growth monitoring and first 1000 days support in communities and homes, among others.
The one thing she loves the most about her job, however, is the in-field support and supervision she provides regularly to both CHWs and GGC club team leaders. “I love to train CHWs and conduct support and supervision in the field. I get to demonstrate on patients or clients in the field. I truly love my job because of my passion for helping people,” says Sister B.
“I am a people’s person. I am always happiest and most satisfied when interacting with my clients (CHWs and their clients) and making sure I’m able to meet their needs and give them the best possible experience. Making a difference makes a big difference.”
If anyone knows about experiencing severe stress and overcoming poor mental health, as well as the importance of self-care, it’s Sister B. The bubbly mother of an 18-year-old son had a stroke in 2012. During her rehabilitation, she went weekly to a clinical psychologist who taught her a useful method of managing stress.
“I learnt various self-care activities but the one I like and still do when I feel overwhelmed is called ‘STOP!’ S.T.O.P is a very useful reminder to stop and take care of yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed, or simply irritated with yourself and others.
“S = Stop what you are doing. T = Take a few deep breaths … try to slow down your breath. It’s difficult to be angry and breathe slowly! O = Observe. Try to notice what you are feeling and how you are holding your body. What are you thinking? How are you feeling physically and emotionally? P = Proceed. Continue with your day. This has helped me a great deal and I can manage stress better now. Everyone has stress. It is a normal part of life.”
However, she is worried that that few people are willing to talk to someone about the challenges they face because of the stigma attached to poor mental health. “You know, no one has ever spoken to me about his or her mental health challenges [since joining GGC] and I assume it is because of stigma. I always say at the training sessions that you can help challenge stigma by speaking up when you hear people around you make negative or wrong comments about mental illness.”
Sister B, however, recalls a positive story from someone she once helped recover from postnatal depression when she was still in nursing. “I had a client who suffered from postnatal depression. The baby was born prematurely at six months. She was in the neonatal Intensive Care Unit; the mom could not cope at all. After providing her with counselling for three months, she started feeling much better. I used to tell her that no one is perfect, so do not expect perfection from yourself or others,” she says.
People who are unable to afford professional help for depression and other mental health challenges can be supported in various ways and this is something Sister B wishes more people knew.
“There are helplines, but people don’t use them, which is a shame because they are a very valuable source of professional, affordable and convenient support. We also need to talk about mental health without stigma and stop referring to people as crazy. This language prevents people from talking about their mental health struggles. If you have a friend or family member with mental illness, support them.”
GGC salutes Sister B for the difference she continues to make in the lives of those around her. It is this determination and willingness to support others that enables Champions for Children to fulfil the vision of Zero Stunting in South Africa by 2030.