Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Portrait of a Real Hero

A carer from Westlake enters the house of one of her clients

With the Care for the Carer campaign coming up, here’s a glimpse into the life of one carer. By Nathalie Koenig

It’s 5am, and Zoleka’s day begins. By 8:30am, she’s made breakfast for her family; made sure all three of her children are ready for school; dropped her two-year-old off at day care; waved goodbye to her husband, a warden at Pollsmoor Prison, and made her way to the Westlake United Church Trust (WUCT) building to start her work day as a home-based palliative carer.

First thing every morning, Zoleka, 36, receives a list of about eight clients to visit in the nearby community before 1pm.

Her clients range in age, needs and moods, but Zoleka remains consistent regardless of what the day throws at her.

A carer washing the dishes during a home visit

“When I have problems I don’t change because of how I’m feeling,” she explains. “I always put on a smiley face when I visit a client so that I can gain their trust.”

Zoleka’s home visits require her to fill a variety of different functions depending on the client. Sometimes they need to be washed and changed into clean clothes. Sometimes their dishes need to be washed and their home tidied. Sometimes all they need is a cup of tea and some company. Her clients who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can become defensive and even aggressive. Wounds are dressed. Insulin is administered. Lost items are found and pillows are fluffed.

“It exhausts you mentally and physically,” says Zoleka. “But you have that feeling that you’ve done something good. And to see that smile, and bring hope into their lives, brings me joy.”

Zoleka brings so much more than just healthcare to the clients she visits. She brings joy, love – and hope. When she enters a home, she is there to do her best to meet whatever need confronts her.

“When you go into some clients’ houses, there isn’t even food in the cupboards,” she explains. “Or sometimes there’s no water. The minute you enter the house, it’s your problem. I would never leave without making sure they’re taken care of.”

Carers from Westlake United Church Trust on their way out into the community

And thank God that carers like Zoleka feel this way about their work.

“I love the work I do,” she smiles. “I love to see people uplifted and empowered. I love encouraging people.”

There are hundreds of carers across our country. Gogos in the frontline of the orphan crisis. Housemothers and fathers at various children’s homes. Palliative carers like Zoleka. Heroes compelled to be fathers to the fatherless; to embrace the widow, and the refugee. To help sick and helpless people die with dignity, and abandoned or discouraged people live in hope. And often with very little, or no remuneration.

Our culture has made much of the guy who scores the winning try at a big rugby game. And the girl whose face and figure adorns the cover of a magazine. It makes much of celebrity weddings and economic status. It disproportionately celebrates success, excess and triviality, and presents a distorted picture of what makes a real ‘hero’. But as Christ-followers, it’s our task to challenge society’s take on ‘heroes’. And ask the question, “Who would Christ hail as a real hero?”

At about 11pm, Zoleka will rest her head on her pillow at the end of another long day. She won’t transform overnight into a celebrity followed by paparazzi and adoring fans, but isn’t she more of a hero than a lot of the so called ‘heroes’ we read about in the media? And isn’t she more of a true reflection of the ultimate Hero she serves? The One who came to give His life so that we could all experience “life to the full” (John 10:10).

To learn more about Westlake United Church Trust, visit

Keep an eye and ear open for more on the Care for the Carer campaign coming soon!

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