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A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service

1930–2000

Adwoa Agyei-Benhene

Nursing

Adwoa Agyei-Benhene is a nurse that began her NHS career in 1983. In her interview, she discusses her parents' migration from Ghana, training and working as a nurse, and her experiences as a black woman in the NHS. She is the current General Secretary of the Ghanaian Nursing Association.

Interview highlights:

FAMILY

"It was difficult being a nurse and being a mother because of the shift work. Sometimes childcare is difficult because you've got to get up early. And then also the night duty makes it difficult as well."


"[My parents] came to study. That was their primary purpose. So it was to so like, maybe further their education, then go back to Africa."


RACISM

"It is difficult. I think sometimes as a person of colour, you’re, you kind of have to prove yourself a bit more. And everybody has to jump through hoops now, but you might have to jump through an extra hoop."


COMMUNITY

"There was definitely a sense of community in the nurses home. You'd get off a shift and then you'd go to the room next door to see your buddy, and you'd be talking about what had happened on the shift, etcetera."


"The Ghana Nurses Association UK was formed in 1993. It's a registered charity, and it's set up to offer support to Ghanaian nurses and also to the Ghanaian community in general. It was [originally] set up to   support a nurse at a time of bereavement or when a nurse passed away."


"There's a small African community at my church. It depends which church you go to, because some,  churches have larger [communities] than others.


CAREER

"I enjoy helping people. I'm a people person."


"This is a contract *laughs*, that's when I worked at UCL. It shows how much I got paid. I started with £11,000, but that was in 1991 *laughs*, £11,505!"


"There were a few, [black nurses] like in my particular group I think I was one of three. Because the groups used to have a lot of nurses, it'd be split into small groups of thirty, but they'd start every couple of months. And so out of thirty, there were about three African nurses."


ADVICE TO YOUNG PEOPLE

"For the younger generation, [my advice] is be proud of who you are. The younger generation has a greater chance than us to know about their history. Some of it is taught in schools. Link up with the parents, ask the parents questions, even sometimes ask the probing questions like 'Why did you come here?' Ask about your family background. Try and go back, like your mum and your dad, your grandparents, go back further. Go back to your great–grandparents. Go back to your great–great–grandparents. You should know their names."

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