From Zero to Hero
By Ubah Hashi Elmi, September 22, 2015
October 12, 2015 is National Bandana Day in South Africa. Buy a Bandana to help leukemia victims. On the 12th of October, South African residents wear it to show their support for blood cancer victims. Vincent Madaray is a South African healthcare professional. He hosts a dining event each year in Abu Dhabi, to support the fight of leukemia sufferers. He imports bandanas from South Africa and organizes this dinner, which quite possibly will be held on October 23 this year at 7:00pm. A few blood cancer survivors will tell their story that evening. The money collected from the bandana sales go to the Sunflower Fund - a non-profit venture to secure financial support for leukemia patients, formed in 1999 by the parents of children in South Africa who died of this disease.
Who is Vincent?
More than a century ago, in 1860, Vincent’s great-grandfather boarded a ship called ‘Truro’, run by the British in colonial times, to work in the construction of railways in South Africa. He never looked back. For all intents and purposes, Vincent’s family is proud to be South African.
Vincent’s parents had 5 children. Living on the income of a supervisor was a meagre existence. In the first grade of schooling, Vincent topped his class. He received a prize to be collected on stage.
Vincent vividly remembers climbing up the steps to the stage, turning and looking at his mother, sitting in the audience. She prompted him, “Go.” Vincent saw himself as “nothing” at the time - “a poor penniless kid.” Today, Vincent is the ward manager, Oncology at an Abu Dhabi healthcare institution. He helps people.”
“I am, by nature, compassionate and caring. I have the right job. I am a strong believer in the lasting beneficial impact of compassion, non-medical support."
“I LOVE movies.” says Vincent expansively, lost for a moment, smiling. “You get lost in a movie. So many expats in UAE do not have their families here. Such patients: from labor camps, construction workers, female taxi-drivers…. have nowhere to go.”
In 2009, when Vincent became the ward manager for oncology patients, he organized ‘Movie Time’ for them. “Patients are pale post-chemotherapy, they have nausea and vomiting for a day or so. If they are weak because of side effects, bed-rest is a must. We help manage their symptoms.”
“But chemotherapy runs in cycles. In between, they are free and interested to watch movies and enjoy it. They are very aware - normal people like us. Sometimes they have no hair. They feel cold. So we - the medical staff and I - bring hats, scarves and jackets to keep them warm and comfortable. We watch their diets too - bring the right food. No hospital budget is involved. We dig into our own pockets for this. The patients joining us for ‘Movie Time’ are not in isolation wards, prone to infection. It is simply excellent entertainment therapy - a distraction from illness. We choose kid movies a lot. By the end of the movie, they are smiling.”
fun and affection
Vincent also encourages patients to be placed in wheelchairs, then rolled out to the nearest park or garden for a party. “We serve Biryani and engage them in games, using a ball and a net. We buy telephone cards and write out the number for all party-goers to see. The first person who types it onto their mobile, gets the credit. Some of the nurses can sing and dance well. That brightens things up further. Patients’ families, if they are here, join us and add to the fun. We take lots of pictures. It all adds up.”
True. It all adds up. Trained to work as a nurse first, then a ward manager, Vincent’s compassion motivates him to extend non-medical support to patients as well. That’s incredible.
“It was great to help with another initiative: ‘Stay Beautiful’.” Vincent reminisces. “We encouraged oncology patients to take part in a cosmetic make-over: facials, eyebrows, a selection of wigs for them to wear…all sponsored by a company from Dubai. We helped male patients to look their best too, relying solely on our own skills. We helped them to shave, gave them a scrub facial, gave them deodorants, after-shaves… the whole thing.”
“Celebrating patients’ birthdays is a clear winner.” Vincent goes on. “I embrace a patients, I sit by their side and click photographs with them. At parties, I love to serve juice, go around with a food-tray. I may be the last to eat. But that is just genuine hospitality.”
“In other words, I have the right job” says Vincent, “I was not an oncology nurse when I started. I was trained in delivering babies which I did many times over. Then I reached here - appointed as a charge nurse in oncology. I loved it. So I trained to be a certified oncology nurse. I am a ward manager now - for the past 6 years, an administrative position.”
The biggest push
My biggest push through dark times is having a clear vision about what I want. I did not want to work in a factory. So I joined nursing. In college, I found a dusty little room to study in. I couldn’t study at home with 4 sisters, grandparents… very noisy. That dusty room inspired me to do my best.
Vincent is the co-chair for patients and family rights of the (Joint Commission Internationa) JCI chapter which identifies, measures, and shares best practices in quality and patient safety in the world.
Just as he has emboldened children in Africa to stand up against bullying, and focus on the future with determination, his next resolve is to address school children here about the scourge of lung cancer and its inseparable association with smoking.
From Zero to Hero
“I have left poverty behind me, risen beyond it. I do not believe that poverty dictates your life. My dad died when I was 11, my mom a little later on. I still got through life. There is always a chance to be something, IF you dream big and pursue it. I joined a government aided nursing college and got the highest marks in the country. My ambition was to go overseas.”
At the age of 20-21, Vincent faced exposure to real life. So long as he lived with his family, he was protected but then he trained as a nurse and began looking after patients. Mentored by a small group of colleagues, I began to understand from that age on.”
Passionate about helping, as a youth, Vincent helped raise awareness about HIV and AIDS - a BIG health issue in South Africa. I collected clothes for charity too. In UAE, that is easier to accomplish. Expatriates love to give things away. I have collected over a 1000 pair of shoes plus clothes for Syria, Palestine and Nepal, then sent it to the concerned embassy.
As I left his office, concluding my interview, I saw a box kept next to the door. I peered in. Vincent had collected shoes and bags for the cleaning personnel at his hospital. I turned, looking at him in surprise, Vincent smiles “They deserve kindness too. I want to cheer them up.”
Do you want to help in any of these ventures? In what way? Let him know.