by Gudrun van Heukelum

As I am the oldest member on the current committee, I was tasked with writing a short paragraph on the history of the WCPPG. 

My thoughts take me back to that young therapist that I was at the first WCPPG meeting I attended. After qualifying in the Western Cape and having worked here for a few years before settling in the Eastern Cape, I returned 14 years later in 1998. I cannot describe how overwhelmed I felt when facing the “new job-market” in Cape Town.  There were no jobs advertised and I felt somewhat insecure having only worked part-time since my children were born.  But I was keen!!!  ….and private practice seemed to be a viable possibility for a multi-tasking mother with huge OT dreams and no hospital or job to go to - especially not a part-time one!

With a feeling of pending disaster in the pit of my stomach, I was directed to attend my first WCPPG meeting which took place in the Northern Suburbs.  I do remember that I sat on a ball – the seating was certainly eclectic. When arriving, I almost freaked out being in the presence of so many Gurus. I survived however and I felt more secure the next time. The next meeting was in the Southern Suburbs at a big group practice. That is how we did it in those years, moving from practice to practice, trying to balance the North – South travelling commitments for the members. 

There was always an official part for discussing business and logistical arrangements, to advertise courses and co-ordinating interest groups.  This part was followed by a demonstration or address of a guest speaker.  The topics were always interesting and relevant and afterwards we could bond and share experiences.  To make the meetings even more worthwhile, some members were tasked to bring refreshments and the refreshment-bringers stayed behind afterwards to help wash up.  

What a wonderful source of support has been located in this group over the years.

The WCPPG started as a support- and interest group sometime between 1982 and 1985, for OT’s who worked outside of the public sector.  Among other things, practitioners were trying to define a fair tariff for publication in the government gazette. 

In an attempt to obtain more detailed information about the group’s inception, I contacted the founder members some of whom are still well-known and well-loved stalwarts in the WCPPG.    It soon became clear that the drive and commitment of the members was of pioneering standard, but that there is not a logbook where all the transactions and transitions are recorded. Each person that I contacted had a story to tell and reminisced about different aspects of the early work that was done and gave me new leads and more names of persons to get in touch with.  It was fascinating to contact these icons of our profession, many of whom I still remember from my own journey as an occupational therapist. The names Kerstin Scheltema, Marie Vorster, Vicky Van Rensburg, Lynne Ziervogel, Nita Lombard, Una Brand, Anne Blignout, Jeanne Hempstead (one of my varsity buddies), Mary Pemberthy (who sadly has passed away) and Jill Hosking, were raised again and again.

In the early days, the WCPPG was an ad hoc committee affiliated to OTASA.  It later became a standing committee on OTASA.  I was not around at the inception of this group but it seemed to have always been geared to bring together, to unite, to inspire and to promote our professional growth in every possible way.  When I joined in 1998, one of the courses that was offered at that point was a practice management course which was a most valuable input to shape my emergence as a private practitioner. 

The membership grew in numbers and diversity, at one point occupational therapy private practitioners working in the legal and physical rehab fields met at the same time and had parallel sessions. We tried to vary topics to accommodate a wider range of clinical fields but the time on the Friday morning became and remained a suitable and sustainable meeting-time for paediatric practitioners, whereas the other interest groups preferred afternoon meetings.  As a result, the two groups no longer had combined meetings for logistical reasons.

One of the immense strengths of the WCPPG was that it drew in young, energetic, resourceful therapists onto the committee – they contributed fresh thinking and cutting edge innovation. 

Initially, 4-10 members would meet in one another’s lounges but, as membership grew, meetings moved to the bigger practices.   By 2000, attendance-figures had increased to around 70 participants. It became progressively more and more difficult to arrange meetings in member’s practices and the meeting-venue first shifted to the St Thomas’s Church Hall in Rondebosch – this was not entirely ideal and also not central enough.  The Pinelands Library Hall became our next home and we then moved to the lecture theatre a Valkenburg Hospital.  At this point the WCPPG engaged caterers for the eats and at “Valkies” we had our first experiences of exhibitors at our meetings. 

Despite the shortcomings of various venues, meetings provided the opportunity for us to meet, be inspired and to grow as OT’s and as professionals.  Meetings also offered the opportunity to buy specialized stock-items that we needed to do what we do.

A great milestone was achieved when the WCPPG had sufficient funds to hire the lecture theatre at the MTN Science Centre.  This venue was so “cool” and its central location suited the majority of members. We were very sorry when the MTN Science Centre was closed and we had to use the Clubhouse at Century City which was quite a bit smaller and could not comfortably accommodate the exhibitors.  Now we are on the lookout for a new venue again.  Pinelands remains a central point and here it comes:   Our meetings are going to be hosted at the Mowbray Golf Club, which is actually situated at the entrance of Pinelands.  I am reminded of the following quote by H.G. Wells: “It is not the strongest of the species who survive, but those with the greatest ability to adapt to changing environments” …… so the WCPPG has over the years thrived, as it has always been able to adapt to changing circumstances.

On a personal level the WCPPG-meetings have enabled me to enjoy the fellowship of my colleagues during that period of my life where my time constraints were at their most acute.  In the attempt of balancing my roles as mother and wife, as professional woman and life-long learner, at these meetings I felt affirmed in a safe space and I could combine professional advancement with socializing.  I felt stimulated, jolted out of any rut, I enjoyed the input of the guest speakers as well as the courses. Anxieties about CPD protocols and ICD-10 codes were shared and processed. I felt I was growing as a person and as an occupational therapist in this process.  The fees remained an issue throughout the years but I saw my young colleagues rise to challenges in the competitive market place in the most commendable way and I felt proud to be a member of this group and maybe in some way a link in this chain.

When I was researching the incubation of the WCPPG, I realized that everyone whom I contacted had a story and valuable memories.   I also spoke to some of the more recent chairs of the committee (Beryl Smith, Bunty Mc Dougall, Mush Perrins, Annelize van den Berg, Dana Katz and Chantal Griessel).   The history of our group is captured in the heads of those that were around at a particular time. 

I realize that the task of unpacking all the different phases and stages, is something that I do not feel equipped to do on my own – it requires so much more than a quick call to the people who were so involved.   I am also aware of my own limitations in summarizing accurately, fairly and concisely all these vast experiences.  I would therefore like to suggest that we establish an “Oral History” Blog, where everyone who has been part of the journey, and who has questions or answers, anecdotes and words of caution, can become part of the joint exploration of our roots.