Monday, 13 January 2014

A lifetime of caring for the intellectually challenged

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After 30 years of dedicated service at Avril Elizabeth Home for the Mentally Handicapped in Germiston, Senior Supervisor, Norah Morake bid a sad but excited farewell to her colleagues and much-loved residents.

Retirement after a lifetime of caring, learning and working with the intellectually challenged at the Home, and before that as a domestic worker, is a daunting, yet welcomed change for this mother of two and grandmother of five as she is not used to dedicating time to herself and her own interests.

“Everything I’ve done here has been a great experience,” says Norah. “I’ve loved working here. It’s tough and challenging yet extremely rewarding.

“I’m really going to miss the residents, some of whom have been here since I began working at the home so many years ago”.

Since joining Avril Elizabeth Home in September 1983, Norah worked her way up from the kitchen, to working with the residents in the main home, to working in the stimulation centre as a class assistant before her promotion to supervisor and then to senior supervisor.

“The Home’s management recognised my potential and encouraged me to always aim higher. 

“I was sent on a few care worker and first aid courses and on specialised training for the stimulation centre. I also received in-service training. All of this was aimed at developing my skills and helping me advance in my career.

“The Home is very good at ensuring that its staff has the right training for the job at hand and management are behind you all the time, providing support”.

Norah says that the most rewarding part of her job has been working in the stimulation centre. 

“It’s the heart of the Home. We have the philosophy that everyone has potential and we do what we can to develop that. Through the training I received, I learnt how to help those who can’t sit still, how to use various toys in therapy and ways in which to get residents to utilise their various senses.

“Everything is geared toward stimulating and encouraging our residents to perform simple tasks, such as dressing themselves, brushing their teeth or speaking.

“There are few things in life more satisfying than seeing the joy in a resident’s face when they have mastered something most of us take for granted, such as picking up a pen, or smiling.

“The highlight of my career,” says Norah with a huge smile “has been the impact I made on a child who came to us from Tara. He couldn’t sit still. He spat. He jumped around. No one could handle him.

“It seemed to me as people outside of our Home had given up on him. We never give up.

“I worked with him in the stimulation centre on a daily basis. Spoke softly to him, encouraged him and after two months of intensive work, he was able to sit still and listen to me. He became calm.

“The training I received in dealing with autistic children certainly came in handy. I knew how to help him”.

Says Norah: “My experience at Avril Elizabeth Home has taught me the value of people. 

“It’s also helped me teach my children and grandchildren tolerance toward those who are “different” and who have intellectual and physical challenges. They in turn have encouraged others to be tolerant and to care.

“I am going to miss the friends I have made, both staff and residents, but I am looking forward to sleeping a little later in the morning, starting a hobby and spending time with my grandchildren”.

“I’ll be back to visit though,” she says with a giggle, “nothing will keep me away from these amazing people who have been a part of my life for so long and who have taught me so much.

“Avril Elizabeth is not only a home to its residents, it has been my home for the past 30 years too”.

To find out more about Avril Elizabeth Home, or how to donate, go to or contact 011 822 2233.