Margaret Elsworth (Blagden) M.B.E. has been involved with SHAWCO since its inception. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend the recent SHAWCO lecture, but she took the time to share a fascinating story about her involvement with the organisation.
Margaret Elsworth’s Connection to SHAWCO
In 1946, Margaret started working at CAFDA, mainly in the office but helping out in all departments. She even lived there for a while and helped run a Constantia vineyard for them in 1948. Margaret was always passionate about helping people in need, and when she became a medical student, she was eager to put her skills to use. In her third year of medicine, she volunteered to help at SHAWCO’s Kensington Clinic, which was then called the Windermere Clinic.
The Windermere Clinic and the Union of Jewish Women
Windermere was an extremely poor area at that time, one of the worst shanty slums in Cape Town, and it flooded so severely during the winter rains that the roads became impassable there, and water was deep in the shacks. The area was also considered to be very dangerous due to high crime rates. Despite the risks, Margaret and a small group of helpers would go out to Windermere on Monday nights, borrowing cars and giving each other lifts. Few of them had cars in those days, and Margaret used to borrow her father’s little Prefect and pack it with other student helpers.
Fundraising and Building the Windermere Clinic
The consultations at Windermere were given in classrooms, and examination couches were desks. Sometimes they even risked doing house calls, which was considered very dangerous because gangs were active there, and the shacks were dark. The pharmacy was contained in an enormous wardrobe that fell on top of you if you opened the doors too widely without propping it up!
The Union of Jewish Women tried to run a Creche in Windermere but needed proper premises. In partnership with the Union of Jewish Women, SHAWCO started fundraising to build a proper clinic. It wasn’t just a street collection, though that was part of it. The main thing was to get significant donations. Margaret sat in her room at Medical Res with her little Hermes typewriter and wrote a personal letter to every person/firm in the telephone book whose name was in heavy black type. That was a great amount of work! Somehow the money was raised, and the building went up.
Joining Forces: Creating Co-Student Clinics
At that time, Margaret was concerned about the multiplicity of good work organisations as the Retreat Clinic had inspired them all, and she had a long liaison with CAFDA. It was natural, therefore, to link together the three groups concerned and to include the Retreat Clinic. And that is why they were “Co” – for the SHAWCO clinics, CAFDA, and the Union of Jewish Women. It was a sort of conglomerate according to her.
Memories of Working at Windermere Clinic
Margaret had to leave SHAWCO during her final year of medicine to focus on her studies, but she has many happy memories of how they worked and how they would come home often at 1 a.m. after clearing up… exhausted.
Margaret’s story is a testament to the power of passion, dedication, and hard work. She saw a need in her community and worked tirelessly to help address it, even in the face of danger and adversity. Her commitment to making a difference in the lives of others is truly inspiring and is a shining example of the values that SHAWCO embodies even 80 years later!