Shut-down of psychiatric hospitals – Another challenge for Mauritian nurses

Life of Mauritians in the UK

Since mid-1980s and 1990s right across Britain, the psychiatric hospitals started to shut down. They had been the largest employers for thousands of nurses, doctors and allied workers for many decades. Since the 1990s this led many Mauritians to change direction in their careers

Since mid-1980s and 1990s right across Britain, the psychiatric hospitals started to shut down. They had been the largest employers for thousands of nurses, doctors and allied workers for many decades. Since the 1990s this led many Mauritians to change direction in their careers. They bought Care Homes and Nursing Homes; a new era had started with these businesses. The difference between Care homes and Nursing Homes was that though both types of homes provided accommodation, supervision from staff 24 hours a day, meals and help with personal care needs, Nursing Homes also had registered nurses on duty at all times.

It was a sad end for Mauritian nurses after training and qualifying in these very hospitals which were their first home in Britain. All the psychiatric hospitals together with their huge lands across the UK got sold to developers to build houses. Many of the nurses, doctors, electricians, administrators, social workers and managers were redeployed elsewhere.

Many took early retirement at the age of 50. Other workers such as cooks, gardeners and ancillary workers were made redundant. The nurses who left UK to settle abroad actually wept when they visited their old hospitals which were no more. Such was the attachment and nostalgia of these formative years in a secure place for so many. Furthermore, it was sad to see the former Banstead Hospital in Sutton, Surrey, after it was demolished and turned into a high security prison. Only the former Nurses Home and some smaller buildings have remained. The UK government had this plan well before 1960s, to close all psychiatric hospitals by the end of the 20th century.

One of many pictures of hospital closures across Britain in 1990s

Sad end and state of ruins of Banstead hospital (Sutton, Surrey) after it closed its doors forever

Many of the Mauritians had to work very hard before achieving success in their new occupations. They worked for very long hours and were hands-on at the forefront usually supported by their spouse or family members. In the end, their hard work paid off to make them proficient managers; and some gained recognition with award-winning status in their businesses. One good story is that of a Mauritian-born manager, Sen Bengaroo and his wife Maria of Braemar Nursing Home. Sen Bengaroo did nursing in the 1970s, then changed career to do an Economics degree. Later he completed a Master’s degree in Industrial Relationship while starting his new Nursing Home enterprise. Many Mauritians went in different directions of further studies to convert them into these businesses which also helped the UK economy.

Braemar Nursing Home, Portsmouth, England: garden area for the resident

Courtesy of Mr and Mrs Sen Bungaroo

Staff at Braemar Nursing Home, Portsmouth, England with the Mayor opening a new wing

The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth City Council and other local dignitaries at the grand opening of the Home’s latest extension in 2018. Maria Bengaroo (L) and Sen Bengaroo (extreme R), owners and managers of Braemar Nursing Home.

In general Mauritians have a strong attachment to family and culture whatever be their faith. They are mild mannered, calm, charming and most of all industrious, hence the large Mauritian diaspora in Britain. All Mauritians have a strong commitment to their families, be it relatives abroad or their children in Britain.

In almost every region of UK, whether it is north, south, east, west or London, one would have heard of some Mauritian cultural associations, part of their way of life. Their families and friends needed to meet and celebrate the main religious or national festivals. They all associated themselves with a social group to link with the culture and traditions of their parents and upbringing after they came to the UK. They spent their time, efforts and dedication to keep alive their plural culture, tradition and friendliness which they extended to and shared with their host community.

One of the good examples is the Benevolent Society of Mauritians in Scotland (BSMS). It has been established since 1985 and managed voluntarily by an elected committee which is based in Glasgow and surrounding areas. The BSMS celebrates various events to embrace multicultural diversity, history, race, religion and languages. Their songs and dance called Sega are unique to them, uniting all Mauritians in the region.

Wherever they have settled, they have learned to live and respect each other’s way of life. There are also several dozens of these similar societies around the Mauritian communities, be it Hindus, Muslims, Chinese or Christians in the UK. The celebrations are usually during Mauritius Independence day, Diwali, Sankranti, New Year’s Eve, Eid, Easter and Christmas times. They also extend these to administrative meetings for members to plan and prepare the running of these societies including cooking Mauritian meals and snacks.

Benevolent Society of Mauritians in Scotland celebration of Mauritian Independence and other festivals. Courtesy of Mrs Vanita Dowlul, one of the Committee members

Down south in the county of Surrey, the Al Wali Welfare Trust (AWWT) was founded in 2013 by a group of hard working, committed, dedicated brothers all sharing the same aspiration, that of helping the poor, needy and destitute. Their inspiring motto is: “When the storms of life get you down, open your spiritual eyes and see Allah Azzawajal at work”. The aim of AWWT is to create a world where people of all backgrounds can appreciate life and live in dignity. Their vision is to assist the poor and needy by providing practical, emotional, psychological, social and financial support. This is another inspirational example of how Mauritians in the UK are never far from promoting their culture and beliefs, no matter how long ago they have left their motherland.

Some of the Mauritian Christians are associated with Mauritian Christian Church which was established in 2004, in Balham, London. The church became a charity firm and its aims are to concentrate its efforts on religious activities, preventing and poverty. It is dedicated to mankind. Other Christians, including some Chinese Mauritians are liberal and freely attend other associations to meet friends and relatives.

In London, the Mauritius Hindu Association has a long history since its foundation in 1976. In recent years, the Chairman, Sunil Mungar, organised a celebration in a posh hotel near Heathrow in order to celebrate Mauritius’ 50th Independence. For the last four years, this has included giving hard-working and deserving Mauritians Achievement Awards, covering Nursing, Business (Travel Agents, Butcher), Social Service and work in the community and Education sectors. These have been happy occasions honoured by dignitaries from the political field and the media, such as Sunrise Radio and TV soaps. Everybody really enjoyed dance, food and drinks and a chance to meet long-lost friends. The highlight of the evenings was the Mauritian Achievement Awards ceremony with interludes of Bhojpuri, Indian songs, Sega and music followed by a banqueting dinner celebrating the best of Mauritian/Indian cuisine.

Dr Sashi Sohodeb, during the Mauritius 50th Independence Celebration said: “We are proud of what the Mauritian communities have achieved in Britain. The Mauritian Achiever’s Awards ceremony is just an excuse to say a big thank to all those shining stars.”

Mauritian Diaspora in UK celebrates Golden Jubilee of our Independence
From L to R: KreshRamanah, Sunil Mungur, SashiSohodeb, Miss England Stephanie Hill

Sunil Mungur and Dr Lock (Sashi) Sohodeb were both awarded ‘International Personality Award’. Sunil Mungurwas presented his own biography written by Dr Sohodeb entitled: « The biography of a dedicated Sunil Mungur – Life of a dedicated philanthropist.

The lives of the first and some second generation Mauritians who came to Britain since the late 1960s were hard and they made sure their offspring had nothing to do with Nursing. They sacrificed and brought up their children with good to outstanding British education. Many of these British-born have stories about university campuses rather than Nurses Homes. They also keep their traditions in many ways.

Some of these children speak fluent Creole and understand Mauritian hospitality and culture. On the other hand, they also have deep British values and often have different views from their parents. They support England in almost all sports, be it football, cricket or athletics. Unlike their traditional parents many tend to mix more with the mainstream English and also marry the local girls. Like many of their white counterparts, marriage is not on their mind until much later. Many of them are keen to do pursue their careers and secure a home first.

 

Former Nursing Student in 1970s, now a Course Leader in Applied Science and Industry Placement Coordinator


* Published in print edition on 19 October 2018

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