Meet Marié Wilken: CEO of Stellenbosch Hospice

Categories: People & Places.

Marié’s journey to this position started at school age. Oudtshoorn High School pupils did regular visits to the local hospital with presents and singing accompanied by guitars. Her mother, Annetjie Spies, was very involved in community work and the ACVV (Afrikaans Christian Women’s Association) in Oudtshoorn, South Africa. The ACVV at the time, under leadership of Rosie Schoeman, was caring for the sick and the poor, but without any medical facilities. All the ACVV members’ daughters had to help with fund raising catering events, were exposed to talks on the needs of people every day in their homes and even sent on a tour to Cape Town for a week to visit all the shelters and places of help.These things made a huge impression on these teenagers and shaped their hearts forever into “how can we help” mode. Marié’s mother often sent her to visit and have tea with the lonely elderly in the neighbourhood and she became use to visiting and interacting with sometimes very, introverted lonely people and befriending them.

After school, she went to the South African Women’s Army College at George where they were also trained in basic nursing skills in order to be of assistance in emergency situations. Practical sessions were regularly done in the George hospital with the professional medical staff.

While studying at the University of Stellenbosch, she took part in caring outreaches, even as far as Swaziland. After graduating (BA Geography Hons + Higher education diploma), she completed the international Health and Beauty Therapy Diploma at the Isa Carstens Academy in Stellenbosch. She was privileged to get tuition from the founder, Isa Carstens, for whom, caring for the wellbeing of her customers, was the most important part of the treatment. Isa drilled into the students the awareness of the client’s physiological and physical state at all times. Her attitude that the aromatherapy and facials were also intended to concentrate on health via natural resources, was advanced in a time, when she had to still convince the medical profession about this course being beneficial other than only for outside beauty.

Marié realized that there are certain responsibilities that everybody has towards their own wellbeing, and possibilities in natural health for non-medical staff to advise and treat people in a way that triggers the body to start healing itself via diet and treatments like aromatherapy and foot reflexology. The aromatherapy and foot reflexology treatments were done full time at her own salon, at Aliwal North Spa for 2 years, where some of the customers also were cancer, diabetic, and chronic patients. There she learned for example that it hurts when you touch or massage some cancer patients on parts of the body like the hands and forehead which are not protected by flesh. After completing an Eve Taylor (International expert on Aromatherapy at the time) mixing of Aromatherapy oils diploma course, she started mixing the aromatherapy oils and adapted treatments according to the pain level and needs of the clients. After selling the salon, she did a year course at the Pretoria Technicon in Light music, which happened to be more or a Jazz music course, while also teaching at The Glen High School in the mornings. The influence of music on the spirit and moods of people in general  and how it can be used in her aromatherapy sessions, intrigued her and she started using specific genres of music during her therapy sessions, with excellent results.

For years after she sold her salon, she had clients on a part time base for these aromatherapy and foot-reflexology treatments. The realization that most of her clients would benefit by her knowing more about counselling, resulted that she completed a one year ABBO Biblical Counselling diploma course at RSA Technikon in Roodepoort at the time, on a part time base. Due to developing osteoarthritis in her hands, she could not continue these treatments on a full time base.

Chronologically her career life went as follows: She started her professional career as teacher at Norman Henshilwood School in Wynberg, where, as a very Afrikaans lady, she had to learn the English culture and language very quickly. Then after moving to PJ Olivier High School in Grahams Town, for a temporary 1 year position year, she started her salon in Aliwal North Spa (for 2 years) and also taught in-between for 6 months at Bishop Du Mont School. From here she did the light Music course and taught at the same time at The Glen High in Waterkloof Glen Pretoria. She was offered the position as a planner at the Department of Development and interacted with the ministers and high ranking Government staff.

Moving on the City planning department of Roodepoort City Council, she was responsible for all the applications to rezoning of land and learned about all the legal aspects regarding buying and developing land. From there she moved on to the Electrical and Mechanical Engineering department of Roodepoort City Council and was in charge of all the administration and the maintenance of the buildings. In this position, she was responsible for her own departmental budget and staff management, HR, maintenance and was part of the management committee.

She resigned after her first child was born, and started very successful home businesses from home (Disposable nappy business which within a year grew to a turnover of between R50 000 and R60 000 per month, buying and selling or new clothes to the amount of R90 000 in 3 months’ time). Because of the crime and fear of begin a target at home in Roodepoort, the family sold their business and home and moved to Franschhoek, where she started a slimming salon together with a carpet cleaning business. When both were successfully picking up to quickly, she sold the carpet cleaning business and bought the first two jumping castles which grew to a business with 7 jumping castles and slides. This valuable experience and knowledge on marketing and running a business is very much used with the three Hospice Shops which she must manage as part of her position as the CEO at Stellenbosch Hospice.

Being a career women at heart, she decided to go back into the professional market again and added GIS to her Geography Hons. Degree at Stellenbosch University, and two years later, in April 2003, when her youngest child went to grade R, started at Stellenbosch University’s Information Technology department at the bottom of the ladder again, because she was out of the professional work force for 8 years. There she had to learn about all aspects on IT hard ware and systems, suppliers, customer needs and student computer problems. Being interested in people and starting to help the students in a unique way, she was assigned to start and build up the IT student help centre, at a different location than the main IT building. With the help of many very competent student contractors and back up of the IT staff, who wrote programs and gave input in how to attend to the needs of students, a professional IT Student Help centre was developed. This centre handles huge numbers of student clients whose computers are set up for the network when needed, but at least once a year. With 23 000 students on campus and most of them registering their computers and cell phones through the centre successfully, the centre is seen as an independent entity under the supervision of the IT Department of the University of Stellenbosch. Marié drilled into the student contractors to always ask the correct questions in order to locate the problem behind the student client’s relay of what is wrong with their computers, as the clients do not always know what to tell them about the computers. This technique is very valuable in every customer service environment, to identify what is the best way to help any customer in any circumstance even in the Hospice environment.

While working at the IT Student Help centre, she completed her MPhil Degree in Text and document design, part time at the University of Stellenbosch, which included text design, marketing and the reasoning to keep in mind when developing websites, professional documents, pamphlet and more, which is a much needed skills in the CEO position.

When the opportunity surfaced for a marketer to schools, fundraiser and administrative system- and website developer at the Chemical Engineering department of Stellenbosch, she applied in September 2011, but once in the position, did not actually have the chance to act on that role, due to resigning and reshuffling of staff. She however but ended up handling an ECSA audit, which skill is very much needed in the COHSASA and other audits done at the HPCA.

In her life time she managed staff, developed systems, did HR management, Budgets, buying and selling, therapy, and had exposure to different leadership styles by her superiors and by managing different departments. She sees all these experiences coming together and of much use in her position as the CEO of Stellenbosch Hospice.

Because she was new comer in the Hospice world, her forgoer, organizes an orientation program in which she walked with the carers to the patients in the field, attend different training sessions and have personal interviews with most of the staff working here.

She sums up one of the many experiences in Stellenbosch Hospice since her appointment in February 2015:

“Although 80 % of our work entails chronic care, and prevention campaigns, I realize that the last days before death is actually a journey of which the family and person at end of life can make much more use of, especially when the patient is still conscious. That is the time when you can find out all you want to still ask, tell what you want to tell, laugh about the wonderful memories, touch each other as much as possible, and get out all the regrets. Do not try to avoid the topic and the issue, accept it as part of life and make the best of it. Hospice will help to make the journey as loving, pain free as possible in a beautiful professional inward environment, where there is always soft music in the days and air purifiers to keep the fresh smell in the wards. The staff working in Stellenbosch Hospice are amazing in that they have their own personal troubles at home, but different from some people in that they raise out from that circumstances and give out as much love and help as they can. I really feel as if I am in heaven in this position and am looking forward in growing Hospice into an entity and family in which everybody in Stellenbosch is part of.”

Her motto in managing is to encourage her staff to each take responsibility and act as a manager in their own position, with the eye on the main goal of the Hospice. That opens the field for them to be creative and buy in in their roles as part of the bigger picture.


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