75-year-old grandmother and former refugee to graduate

  • Date

    Thu 12 Jul 18

Betty Mlandeli

Grandmother and former refugee Betty Mlandeli is still working as a nursing assistant at the age of 75 and wants to help even more people after completing her degree at the University of Essex.

She will become one of the University’s oldest graduating students when she receives her degree at our Graduation next week.

Graduating with a BA in Therapeutic Communication and Therapeutic Organisations, she said: “This has been a very stimulating experience. I am proud of myself and what I have achieved at my age and I am looking forward to helping as many people as I can with the skills I have learnt.”

Betty, who lives in Southend, has worked part-time for Fair Havens Hospice for the past seven years, offering palliative care to people in their own homes and hopes her degree will help enhance the support she gives.

“For me, my degree was not just about wanting to be a graduate but about wanting to do something which can benefit others,” she explained. “I loved the psychoanalytical dynamics. It has helped me understand myself and understand others. You learn to think before you act and think deeper than what you see.”

Before coming to the UK in 2002, Betty was a highly-experienced nurse in Zimbabwe. Her extensive career had included being a specialist theatre nurse, midwife, matron and a nurse for the Air Force of Zimbabwe.

Widowed in 2000, Betty came to the UK in 2002 to visit her daughter and due to growing problems in her home country she applied for refugee status, which was granted in 2009. In 2014 she won indefinite leave to remain status in the UK and can apply for UK citizenship in 2019.

Despite her extensive nursing experience, visa problems meant she was unable to register as a nurse with the NHS, so she worked as a nursing assistant, primarily working in nursing homes.

She became interested in studying Therapeutic Communication and Therapeutic Organisations at Essex after her daughter and cousin completed the course. She studied at both Southend and Colchester campuses.

“I found it so inspiring when they told me what they were learning. I thought this course could really help enhance my skills at work, she added. “I just woke up one morning and thought ‘this is the course for me’.“

When she told her family about her plans they thought she was crazy to take on a degree at her age. But Betty was determined and she is now seen as an inspiration to her daughters and grandsons.

“I felt I needed to do it. My ambition in life has always been to help people and I knew I could help a lot of people with the skills I will get from this course.”

Although anxious at first, Betty followed her heart and overcame struggles with writing essays and not reading as quickly as her fellow students to succeed in gaining her degree.

“My experience at Essex was very good. It was very stimulating and is so relevant to today’s society which is full of stress and distress.

“I feel I am a different person all together; replenished, freshened up and updated knowledge-wise and I understand myself and others better, so I interact with others better than before.”

As for Betty’s next step, she said: “I still feel strong and capable physically and mentally to do a Masters – but I think I need a bit of a break to digest what I have gained so far.”

Lorraine Tullett, Head of Community Services at Fair Havens Hospice, said: “On behalf of everyone at Fair Havens, I’d like to congratulate Betty on her Graduation.”

Betty is pictured at her Foundation Degree graduation last year.