Namibia: Too Short to Be a Nurse

JOHANNA Guashomeya (27) is shattered after being forced to abandon her dream of becoming a nurse.

She says she was in her second year of pursuing a nursing certificate at the I-Care Health Training Institute at Ondangwa, when her lecturers told her to discontinue her studies due to her size.

Guashomeya, who was born with dwarfism, claims the institute's head of department initially informed her telephonically, while she was attending to patients at the Oluno Clinic recently, that she could not continue her studies, because she is a "little person" and posed a safety risk when dealing with patients.

"I was told that the university was informed by the Health Professions Councils of Namibia (HPCN) to ban me, and that I would not be allowed to practise as a nurse after completing my studies, because I'm a little person and will not be issued with a health licence," she says.

Guashomeya, who is from the Uukwiyu-uushona village on the outskirts of Ondangwa, says her elderly mother was called to the institute to be told her daughter would no longer be allowed to continue with her studies.

Guashomeya, who was determined to change the stereotypes about people with disabilities, is the only one of her four siblings to have reached tertiary level.

None of her siblings are employed and they depend on their elderly mother's monthly government grant for survival.

Guashomeya has completed Grade 12 in 2016 at Nangolo Secondary School at Ondangwa with a tertiary admission point score of 24.

"My mother ... is not well acquainted with the education system, so she did not ask further questions," she says.

"My question is: Why did the institute allow me to register in the first place when they were well aware of my condition?" she asks.

Guashomeya says she has thus far spent more than N$10 000 on the nursing course.

"I had dreams of becoming a teacher or a nurse, but both have been crushed by people who were supposed to assist and support me. Is it my fault I was born with dwarfism? My condition is not a curse, and disability does not mean inability, " she says.

The office of the Oshana region's governor, Elia Irimari, has been assisting Guashomeya to pay for her studies since last year.

The former student is now pleading with good Samaritans to offer her employment.

"I do not feel like enrolling at any mainstream university, because I'm afraid I will get the same treatment," she says.

SCHIZOPHRENIA

The director of I-Care Health Training Institute, Johannes George, confirmed that the institute has discontinued Guashomeya's studies due to her size, saying that she is "incapacitated" to train as a nurse as she would not be able to handle patients.

"The mother and the daughter were both called in and the whole procedure ... was explained to them. Both left our offices with a clear understanding. If they had not understood, they could have asked for more information, but they did not do so.

"The way the parents are going on about this whole matter is truly traumatising to the student," he says.

George says the institute had to act in Guashomeya's best interests and those of patients.

He says the institute sent Guashomeya for psychiatric evaluation before discontinuing her studies, and she was found mentally fit to study, but further evaluation revealed she suffers from schizophrenia, which poses a health and safety risk to patients.

"I tried to study the Nursing Act, but it does not say much about this kind of disability. I then went further to enquire from the HPCNA and I was told that she would not be able to practice as a nurse when she graduates. She could do other courses, but not nursing, because she is short and her arms are also short. She cannot handle patients or even assist a patient to deliver a baby. It is going to be impossible for her to perform her duties as a nurse.

"It is not necessarily her condition but the severity of her condition," George says.

He says he was not made aware of Guashomeya's condition from the onset. If he had been aware of this, he would not allow her to enrol at the institute, he says.

"We are going to refund her for all she spent. I do care for her well-being, and as a health training institute, we are going to support her and the family.

"We are not discriminating against her, we just want to assist her ... " he says.

Guashomeya said she was not aware that she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and is therefore not taking medication.

She also claimed that nothing was explained to her regarding her mental health condition.

George said that he cannot share the psychiatric evaluation report with The Namibian because it's confidential information. He added that the institution is trying by all means to protect Guashomeya from being traumatised.

'NOT TRUE'

HPCNA registrar and chief executive officer CorneliusWeyulu says that the Nursing Council of Namibia does not dictate to educational institutions who should be admitted.

"The nursing council has never directed I-Care Health Training Institute not to admit any person or prohit any person from continuing with his or her studies at the institution based on any circumstances. Such claims hold no truth and are duly rejected," says Weyulu.

Namibia Nurses Union (Nanu) secretary general Junias Tshilunga says it is uncalled for for a training institute to discriminate against someone based on a condition they were born with.

A person born with dwarfism can practise nursing as long as they are mentally capable of doing so, he says.

"It is shocking to hear. I have never heard of such claims - especially when they are coming from a training institute that is supposed to support such people. This is unacceptable. Why did they allow her to register in the first place if they knew she would not be able to practise as a nurse?" Tshilunga says.

He says Nanu accepts all people as members - whether they are disabled or not - as long as they practise nursing in Namibia.

Irimari said that Guashomeya approached his office for financial assistance early last year.

He then saw it fit to meet her parents halfway by contributing towards her tuition fees.

"It's unfortunate that something like that happened to her. I do not know why the institution decided to backtrack on her enrollment ... I was assisting the mother to pay for her tuition fees because of the vulnerable situation that they find themselves in. She is a young woman who is determined to make a difference in society and I believed in her as well, unfortunately the worse has happened to her, " he said.

BULLYING

Guashomeya says she is used to being bullied by her peers.

"But in this case it is my lecturers making a mockery of my condition, which is truly disappointing," she says.

Her mother, Selma Fillemon, says: "She is such a hardworking and determined young lady, who is ready to face the world and make a change. I do not know where to take her again, I guess this is the endof her schooling."

Guashomeya says she had also been rejected by a university in Namibia when she enrolled for a bachelor's degree in education, but had to drop out due to lecturers constantly making derogatory remarks.

She says the university's lecturers told her she would never be able to teach children or write on the chalkboard because of her height.

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