When Vanessa Kallend went to her GP for a minor infection, a blood test showed her sugar levels were raised, even though she had no symptoms of diabetes.
Now, after 16 years of living with diabetes, Vanessa, a Tafelsig resident, wants to use her experiences to give back to her community.
She started a support group for people like herself living with diabetes, and hopes to create an opportunity for community members to learn together and share their experiences.
“I want to empower people with information so they can take better care of their health. The worst for me is to see people suffering from amputations, which takes away their independence.”
To start the support group Vanessa sought assistance from her long-time friend Carol Hendricks, who runs the Mitchell’s Plain Diabetes Support Group from the Town Centre library.
Vanessa’s support group is now also supported by The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa and Diabetes South Africa, who provides guidance and information resources.
The support group forms part of a pilot project to create “communities of practice”: small communities wherein people can help each other to better self-manage their health.
Diabetes SA recently sent Vanessa to a 4-day training workshop to increase her knowledge of diabetes care.
“The workshop was very interesting and I really enjoyed it,” she says. “What I found most surprising is the food information, it’s really not about diet foods, but using everyday foods in a healthy way”.
The support group was started at the end of last year and is gradually gathering momentum. We asked Vanessa what the biggest challenges are? “I think people are scared to come and be told what to do and what not to do, but it’s not like that.
“It’s about creating a place where you can learn more, and share your stories, good and bad. I am excited to see how eager people are for more information about diabetes.”
Meetings take place every second Wednesday morning at the Tafelsig community centre in Olifantshoek from 10am until noon. Members usually have a chance to have their blood pressure, sugar, and weight checked, and then discuss a topic, often with an expert to lead the way.
Vanessa is planning to invite various speakers to come educate the group about topics such as foods, medication, exercise and much more. The next meeting will take place on Wednesday August 23 at 10am.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation also donated a blood pressure machine to the group, as well as recipe books to hand out to new members.
If you are interested in joining the support group, call Vanessa on 064 419 0895 to find out more or attend the next meeting.
Gabriel Eksteen is The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA’s nutrition manager.