Hutterite women take their first steps into the health sector
Growing up, Karissa Maendel never dreamed of being a nurse. But when she had the chance to embark on such a career, she knew she had to take it.
“It hadn’t been an option, but the opportunity came up,” says Maendel, now in her first year as a registered nurse. “It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.”
A visionary change in a Hutterite colony in Manitoba made his new calling possible.
Maendel is one of the few Hutterite nurses in the province. Now she is trying to encourage greater representation within the healthcare system to help settlements and ease staffing shortages.
“I know that part of the solution to this problem is the resources that the Hutterite community can provide,” Maendel says.
With support from the Baker Colony, the 37-year-old mother enrolled in a three-year bachelor of science in nursing program at the Portage la Prairie campus of Red River College Polytechnic in 2018 and graduated with honors earlier. this year – in time to join the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She now works part-time in the pediatric medical unit at Portage la Prairie Hospital alongside her sister-in-law, Judith Maendel, one of the first four Hutterite women to become nurses in Manitoba.
Baker Colony, located about 50 kilometers southwest of Portage, is home to 120 people and has found it necessary to encourage its members to join the profession, thanks in part to its longtime leader, the late Reverend Ben Maendel.
Traditionally, Hutterites did not seek employment outside the colony and had no individual income. Members work inside the colony as a collective and pool resources for farming, manufacturing, and other economic operations. For decades, Hutterites have received teaching credentials and also receive certification to work in the trades, as accountants and some as first responders.
Registered nurses in Hutterite communities are still rare.
The income that Karissa and Judith receive as nurses goes back to the colony. They work 12-hour shifts a few days a week at the hospital and continue to cook, garden and work at the colony in their free time.
“I haven’t met a single person, none of my classmates, other working mothers, anyone, who had the support system in place that I had. From my gas and my vehicle to the meals prepared for my family and all financial and social needs in between, I was covered.”
“I would like the greater Hutterite community to extend this support and this vision beyond the boundaries of the community,” Karissa added in an interview with the Free presssaying she is particularly concerned about the province-wide shortage of nurses.
But change is on the way: two other members of the colony have signed up for health assistant courses.
Karissa says she hopes to be able to encourage Hutterite girls everywhere, including her two young daughters.
“My daughters said how proud they were, and I’m so grateful to be able to do it – just because they see me do it.”