Saying farewell to our school doctor, Dr Jen Kallis

Dr Jen Kallis

Today we had a farewell tea for Doctor Jennifer Kallis, known fondly to us as Jen. Jen has decided to bow out gracefully from serving school communities in the Cape Peninsula for the past three decades or more. Jen is a medical doctor: someone who cares deeply about serving the community and children who are often the victims of neglect, abuse and the ignorance of adults in their lives. She is acutely aware of the socio-economic demons that plague communities. Jen refused to let people travel to our offices because " Where must the parents get the money for taxi fare.


Jen, the storyteller


Besides being a doer, Jen is an incessant talker,always sharing stories of her experience with children she meets and treats at the various schools across the peninsula. Her animated face and the passion with which she relates the stories kept me spellbound on many occasions. At such times, time would stand still until I realise there may be a rather irate school head waiting for me. When this realization dawns on me, I would often cut our conversation short with dramatics, have Jen shrieking with laughter and poor Helen, our secretary making the "emergency" call to the school, to alert them to my late arrival.

Having tea with Dr Jen Kallis


Philosophy of life


I asked Jen how she would describe her philosophy of life. And, I reminded her that my time was limited because I had an engagement at Prince George Primary School in Lavender Hill, 13 kilometers from our office and already I was pressed for time. Jen laughed, with her eyes squinting and with poise, she said:


"Read the Desiderata by Max Erhmann, that poem captures the philosophy I ascribe to. I am a right minded person with a left-minded approach to life. (I hope I have this right!). It is all about integration in life, connecting all the bits. People want to box everything. In the medical profession, they say: leave education to the education authorities, don't get involved, and yet we are dealing with the child who is one whole person that requires all of us to work collaboratively to help solve the problems. We are all into groupthink and we think we are smart when we box things. We think we have arrived.


Essentially we are like sheep led by the sheep dog. I am not a sheep dog; I am a shepherd. The shepherd stands on the cliff and surveys her environment, looking ahead to see all the possibilities and the challenges. Then the shepherd uses all this information to navigate the space. I say: Sack the sheepdog."


Here's a small confession. The original version of "sack the sheepdog" was in fact "F@$& the sheepdog", a punchier, throaty chant that got us roaring with laughter.


"Really, Jen, is that what I should put in the post, F... The sheepdog...?"

"Yes, yes," said Jen. "We don't want sheepdogs, we want shepherds to lead our people."


Amidst much laughter, we broke into high five slapping and chanting: Amandla, Aluta continua... F.. . The sheep dog, Forward with the shepherds! This was good!


And of course, I ran out of the office again... Bags flying and a broken boot buckle with Helen in tow with a form that needed my signature and the rescued buckle!


Life after retirement from her day job


And what is Dr Jen going to do during her retirement, you may be asking.


Well, if you do visit one of our community health centres, you may just find Jen counting and packing out tablets for the patients. As she explained, once the patient has been treated, there often is no one to dispense the medication and thus the patient is really back to square one. We may see this as petty, but what if the client is an HIV patient? See the link, the need for collaborative, integrated work?


Our gifts


I have been truly blessed to have Jen enter my life because her outlook on life and the nuggets of wisdom we have gleaned from her, have enriched our lives. Jen does not practise the medical model as many of us even in other fields so readily apply like the proverbial sheepdog. Dr Jennifer Kallis is a social activist who takes her life's mission seriously.


Thanks for being you, Dr Jennifer Kallis. You have left a large footprint...



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