The relationship between the Order of St John and the Donaldson Trust was established by Ian Haggie, a former chairman of the Trust, who was also the Prior of St John in South Africa. The present Chairman of the Trust, Benjamin Donaldson, who is also a member of the order of St John, took one of the St John senior nursing sisters, Elizabeth Fernandez, to Mohlaletse in order to see if it was possible to start a St John Brigade there.
When they arrived they attended a large meeting which give them an opportunity of introducing the ideals and philosophy behind St John and how a St John Brigade could help the community.
Sister Fernandez, who was responsible for the St John community services in all four provinces north of the Vaal river, described how she trained community workers in home-care and then linked them to their local government clinic so that they could visit and provide home-care to patients who’d been discharged, and report back to the clinic if there were any problems. In this way, they acted as the eyes and ears of the clinics, thus relieving a lot of pressure.
The MEC for Health at the time also attended the meeting. A former nursing sister herself, she added that she’d found it discouraging to nurse patients back to health only to see them back at the hospital a week later because of lack of after-care. She supported the proposal wholeheartedly and 40 volunteers were selected.
Sister Fernandez chose 40 volunteers who she spread equally across 13 wards in the Fetakgomo Municipality. Each ward had three volunteers. Her reason for splitting the volunteers into wards was that in rural areas, communities are widely scattered and transport is a problem. If, however, volunteer health-care workers only needed to visit patients within their wards, they could do so without incurring any expense because the patients would all be within normal walking distance.
The volunteers were trained in first-aid and home-care by a Sepedi speaking nursing sister, from St John, called Shirley Masego. They all passed and attended a graduation ceremony where they were awarded certificates by the Prior of St John, Bishop Mvume Dandala, who complimented them on their spirit of self-sacrifice.
They formed a brigade and worked with the local clinics. However, they were unpaid, and so Sister Fernandez arranged for them to go on the Department of Health`s 59 day training course which qualified them, as community based home-care workers, to receive small stipend from the government of R 500 per month.
Years later, a St John representative was introduced to a large gathering of home-care workers while visiting a clinic in the Fetakgomo Municipality. They represented all the different health-care groups within the municipality in a scheme initiated by St John and adopted by the municipality.
Many of the original volunteers who’d qualified as government home-care workers, contacted St John and asked if they could do the St John first-aid course. The British Government agreed to pay for the training, and, when it was completed there were estimated to be about 60 home-care workers in the Fetakgomo Municipality, all being paid, and all trained in first-aid and home-care.
St John also raised money to install eye care equipment in the rooms of a local doctor but this did not prove to be a success and the idea of starting an eye clinic was abandoned. The doctor returned the equipment and said that the major problem had been the difficulty of paying optometrists enough to compensate them for travelling on the bad roads. The money-raising effort was not totally in vain, however, in that it induced the British consul to visit Mohlaletse and, as a consequence, the British Government paid for the building of a workshop for the disabled.