Caring for carers

02 August 2023 | Story Kamva Somdyala. Photos Kamva Somdyala. Read time 5 min.
A healthcare initiative for community caregivers in KwaLanga was conducted by fourth-year students.
A healthcare initiative for community caregivers in KwaLanga was conducted by fourth-year students.

Arming medical students with practical skills while giving back to communities is but one of the values that underpins the work done by the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Pat Ncamile, a site facilitator with the Primary Health Care (PHC) directorate.

Ncamile went out with a cohort of her fourth-year students to do community-based, hands-on presentations fulfilling the theme of “Caring for carers”.

Their most recent initiative in July took them to the Ikhaya Labantu premises in Zone 17 of KwaLanga, Cape Town. It brought together four community organisations: Ikhaya Labantu, Sizamile, Kheth’Impilo and Inkanyezi.

Ncamile has been a site facilitator for UCT’s Faculty of Health Sciences students in communities around Cape Town since 2017.

She has a big influence on the direction of each project because of her vast community knowledge; but the conceptualisation of the projects is all done by the students.

Capacity building

According to Ncamile, every eight weeks students must create and implement a project that is needed by the community or a particular group within the community.

“The idea is to get training that is recognised [and] certified [so that people can use it] when applying for future employment; but for now, we’re ensuring that people are confident about the work that they are doing, and have the skills to cope mentally in times of hardship at work and at home.

“We are on our third block for the year. Block one was more focused on recognising and managing mental health for carers. Block two was about building capacity, where carers were taught the difference between normal ageing and dementia. Block three zoomed in on capacity building, where carers were taught how to take basic vitals appropriately,” said Ncamile.

Students gave practical lessons on how to take vitals to community caregivers in KwaLanga.

“[These sessions] are important to me, in ensuring students get the education objective for their course while giving skills to the community.

“As future health workers, students learn about everyday challenges carers deal with, and this exchange of skills empowers students and carers. Carers are benefiting in specialised skills that students are empowering them on, and they are better equipped to do their jobs in caring for people,” Ncamile explained.

Student Tarlin Padayachee, who is studying towards a neuropsychiatrist qualification (a dual speciality in psychiatry and neurology), commented, “The practical experience of conducting a health promotion initiative is invaluable. Being able to implement the theoretical work I have been learning in lectures is satisfying; teaching others also allows me to brush up on my clinical basics.”


“My current project for 2023 has been for carers of all KwaLanga community organisations”.

Padayachee added: “These initiatives allow me to give back to the community. It brings me great joy and personal fulfilment that the occupation I am being trained in (medicine) allows me to have a world impact that extends beyond myself.”

The students formed various medical stations and gave a masterful demonstration of how to interpret Body Mass Index (BMI) and accurately check blood pressure, and emphasised the wearing of personal protective equipment.

Reflections from Ncamile and Padayachee make it clear that the initiative works because of a healthy relationship of collaboration between various stakeholders.

Ncamile said: “My current project for 2023 has been for carers of all KwaLanga community organisations; however, not all organisations participate in the project. But I am patient, and waiting for everyone to form part of this collaboration.”

Generally, said Padayachee, the goals laid out in the development of any health promotion initiative are as follows:

  • identification and research into the health needs of the community
  • facilitating community participation and collaboration in the development of the initiative
  • identifying and critiquing existing policy surrounding the identified health need
  • mediating between community stakeholders and the resolution of conflict (if any)
  • advocating for health for all community stakeholders at all levels of society
  • identifying the appropriate education methods, and developing a continuum of lifelong learning within the community
  • inspiring behaviour change
  • developing appropriate mass media.

When asked for feedback on how the students conducted the various sessions, one caregiver who attended gave a thumbs up. Another expressed her gratitude after the session as she held her certificate of participation in her hands, saying the effort from the students will assist them personally and will enrich their caregiving capacity.

Padayachee said: “I cannot emphasise enough that I was a part of a hard-working, dedicated team of healthcare practitioners. Recognition is in order, of my fellow team members Sonja Durand, Sambesiwe Ndubela, Mombathisi Katywa, Zandile Leboko and Tshepiso Mothibi, as well as the guidance provided by Pat [Ncamile]. These members have worked tirelessly to make vision become reality.”

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