The Wonderful Work of Wasim Worrell
BARP Charitable Trust UWI Scholarship Winner
By Sharon Marshall
At 6’ 4” and 253 pounds, Wasim Worrell might be mistaken for a police officer. In fact, when he was growing up in Walkers, St. Andrew, that’s just what his grandmother Beryl Dean Roachford wanted him to become – to be precise, a police sergeant. He says, “I was told that when I was young, she used to pull me and shake me and do all these things that they do. And she would always say, ‘He is going to be the biggest police sergeant in St. Andrew.’ Then when I was a teenager coming home from parties, she would wait until I got home and would say, ‘Your food is there; your cou cou is there.’ She was one of those older folks that liked to see that you’ve eaten all the food.”
But Wasim is a nurse, a profession which the 45-year-old young man has been following for more than 25 years. He believes that it was the close, caring relationship that he had with his grandmother that led him to this vocation. “My grandmother would come and tell me, ‘Go and look for my shoes’, and I would have to crawl under the bed and get the shoes”, he reveals. “And as I grew up, I would read the Bible to her, and walk her down to church. I used to give my grandmother baths and powder under her breasts, and put on her bra and all that. And it was something natural for me; there was nothing strange about it.”
In 1994, he began working at the Psychiatric Hospital, quite by chance. His sister was employed in the administration there and told him that the hospital was recruiting males. He applied and was successful. “I loved it!”, he reminisces. Around 2000, representatives of hospitals in the United Kingdom came to Barbados to recruit nurses. Wasim was attracted by the fact that one of them offered training. He left for London and was able to pursue a Masters’ degree in Health and Social Policy at City University London. While there, Wasim worked part-time at a nursing home to help pay for his courses. He also got a lot of experience working in forensic units and in prisons. “I thought that they learned a lot from us as well, the cultural aspect of nursing”, he says. “In some of the hospitals in London there were a lot of clients from Caribbean backgrounds, but they were not being nursed by their own, so to speak.” The hospital that he worked at in East London was able to see great improvement in some of the more “troublesome” patients. “Suddenly we were sharing Caribbean music and Caribbean food. It was really tremendous to see how a lot of these patients responded to us in a positive way”, he recalls.
On his return to Barbados in 2007, Wasim worked in HIV care, and had a stint at the Ministry of Health. About three years ago, he applied to the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, to study for an MPhil in Sociology. His area of research is how culture impacts on males’ decision to practice nursing, and the stigma associated with it. He shares that, “I pushed that research further to see how men feel working with the elderly. One young man told me that his father said, ‘I didn’t send you to school to be a nurse. That is women’s work.’ I also wanted to see how activities can help the residents feel more comfortable and cause them to be more engaged in the care provided within the nursing home.” Wasim says a lot of men care for their mothers and grandmothers, but it’s something that is not often highlighted. “If we get more men involved in the care of the elderly, I think that’s another problem being solved in Barbados, where we have a shortage of nurses.” He’s following a group of ten males, recording their experiences at the Geriatric Hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Psychiatric Hospital. “My research is ethnographic”, he explains. “So as a participant-observer, I have to be there with them at night. When I go to the Geriatric Hospital, I actually engage in whatever they’re doing at the time, so that I get first-hand knowledge of how they go about doing things.”
Wasim almost didn’t reach this point in his academic career. He explains, “I started this process, and it was around the time when the course wasn’t funded by Government. I had registered, and had paid the amenities fee, that was it. I started the first year, and then I was barred from registering for certain courses. I was getting letters from the university that, ‘You are so much in arrears’, ‘Your account is not up to date’. But God opens doors for us. I went to the Graduate Studies office to ask if there were any scholarships or grants available. A lady there said, ‘You missed your opportunity, the other scholarships are already closed.’ Then she said, ‘You know what? There is one. There is the BARP Charitable Trust UWI Scholarship; I think you can apply for that.’ I applied, but I wasn’t sure that I would be successful. When it came back that I was successful, I was just over the moon. It was like I had won the lottery. I’m really, really grateful.” He was awarded the BARP scholarship award in 2017/18 to pursue a Masters’ degree in Sociology. He began his final year studies in September of 2018, but was awarded an additional scholarship in 2019 to complete doctoral studies.
The scholarship is open to Barbadian graduate students undertaking full-time studies researching any issue dealing with aging. It’s valued at $10,000 for a period of one year, and is tenable at the UWI. Because of these funds, Wasim says, “I knew that I could actually continue with the course. It came in right on time. What I’m basically saying is, if it had not been for the BARP Scholarship I would not be at this stage today. When you’ve received something, it is your duty now to make sure that you do your part in terms of putting in all the hard work, doing what you have to do, making sure that you’re successful. Now that you have the backing of someone, you don’t want to disappoint them. You want to make sure that you do quality work.”
Wasim also volunteers at a private nursing home, leading activities for the residents – playing dominoes, taking them for walks, making jokes with them. The staff have remarked that the residents’ faces light up when he’s around, and family members have complimented him as well. The fondness is mutual, as Wasim explains, “I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that when I’m away from the home, how I miss some of the older folks. I like some of the things that they say, their humour, the old-time stories of Barbados. They’ve given so much to Barbados, that in the evening of their years, they should feel safe.”
Wasim is looking forward to sharing his research, and is hopeful that it will have a positive impact on the care of the elderly, and also encourage more young men to take up nursing. “I think it is quite rich in some of the stories that I’ve been told, some of the things that I’ve witnessed”, he says. “If we can get more men caring and more involved in looking after the elderly, whether they are in the profession of nursing, or if they assist in the care of their elderly who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s or whatever, that would be a great thing.”