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Foreign nurses in Joburg are stepping in to help through a volunteer programme calling for translators and interpreters at City clinics.
WHEN Burundian national Jackie Milambo heard about the opportunity to provide interpretation services for migrants who are unable to communicate in the local languages in the City’s clinics, she did not waste time in volunteering her services.


MMC Nonceba Molwele Burundian Jackie MilamboMMC Nonceba Molwele hands Burundian Jackie Milambo a certificateJust a few months ago, Milambo, a trained nurse who lives in Florida, was unemployed.

“I am happy because I am back working in my profession after a long period of absence,” she says. “This is also an opportunity for me to catch up with the latest developments in the medical field and prepare for my practical examinations with the South African Nursing Council.”

Milambo, who fled the conflict in Burundi eight years ago with her family, is still struggling to register her qualifications with the council.

Every day, she wakes up early in the morning to help out at Rosettenville Clinic. Although she does not earn a salary, Milambo feels that the project has helped her gain self-esteem.

“Our managers are wonderful. They treat us like their staff and make us feel at home,” she explains.

Besides translating, Milambo is also involved in counselling patients and holding talks on different health issues in the clinic. She also loves working with pregnant women and helping them with their exercises.

The City health department, Refugee Nurses Association and African Migrants Solidarity recently joined forces to train 18 refugee nurses to provide interpretation services voluntarily for migrants who are unable to communicate in local languages or English.

As a result, translation services in Rosettenville and Yeoville clinics have started. These clinics were selected because they operate in areas that have significant migrant communities.

Sister Pretty Kgoadi of Rosettenville Clinic says the introduction of the translation services has made it easier for them to communicate with patients. “It has made a huge impact on our services as we are now able to communicate with patients on various health issues.”


MMC Nonceba MolweleMMC Nonceba MolweleBefore translation services were introduced, the two clinics had become war zones; fights broke out between patients, and nurses were frustrated as they could not understand their patients.

“We had problems in trying to understand the patients’ ailments and this often led to long queues and longer waiting times as we tried to find someone to interpret,” Kgoadi explains.

The communication breakdown made treating people difficult and because of the language barriers, some migrants stopped visiting the clinics altogether.

Sister Granny Stobber of Rosettenville Clinic says the introduction of the translation service has seen a large number of people using the health services. “We are even learning some of the medical terms used in other countries,” she adds.

She has urged the City to introduce a programme that will train the translators as community health workers so that they can help prevent diseases.

At the handover of certificates to the interpreters on 7 June at Eureka House in Rosettenville, the member of the City’s mayoral committee for health and human development, Nonceba Molwele, could not contain her excitement about the project.

She thanked stakeholders for volunteering their services for the betterment of communities. “Let us promote all our diverse languages so that we can understand each other’s background,” she said.

The 18 refugee nurses were awarded certificates for volunteering their services. Molwele said the translation projects running in these clinics were a step in the right direction to help with faster and appropriate service delivery.

“Life would be very difficult if there was no exchange of ideas and information through the usage of our respective languages.”


GrannySister Granny Stobber: translation service usefulMolwele noted that services could not be properly disseminated to the community without effective and meaningful communication. “Let us draw lessons from this initiative by encouraging multilingualism among our people.”

Given Wilonja from Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the volunteers who received a certificate, said the project had helped him explain some medical terms in English.

“I have learnt quite a lot and hope to pass my examination that will enable me to get a job,” he added.

The total number of translations needed at Rosettenville and Yeoville clinics in February was 558.

Of these, 514 were face-to-face translations with patients, while the remaining 44 were for group health education talks. The main language needing translation at Rosettenville Clinic was French; it was followed by Portuguese, Lingala and Swahili.

The data indicate that about 54 percent of patients who used the translation services in Rosettenville were from Democratic Republic of Congo while 25 percent were from Mozambique. The balance was from Rwanda, Burundi, Cameroon, Zambia and Tanzania.

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