Shuvai Foley

When I came over from Zimbabwe in 2002 it was an experiment really. I used to work in a good job back home, but my friend was here and kept saying, “You need to come over to the UK,” so I just wanted to try and see how it goes. I’m still here; it’s been more than 20 years of my life.

When I arrived, I stayed with my uncle and my aunt in London but after about a month I decided London was not for me. The air was a bit too polluted and I needed more freedom, space, and fresh air. I had a friend in Loughborough so I moved there and then to Leicester. I go to church regularly so that helped me make friends and surprisingly, I met other old classmates here as well.


I had already done nursing in Zimbabwe, so I just had to do a three-month conversion adaptation course. Nursing in Zimbabwe was much more exciting than here. Back home in your training, you’re taught how to do everything. You look after babies even if you’re in adult nursing. You’re exposed to so many things, whereas here you are more limited. It’s a pity nursing is more paper-oriented now, rather than hands on.

I find in Zimbabwe that patients have more confidence in and respect for nurses. Here, sometimes patients will ask: ‘Why?’ They don’t always trust what we are saying. Of course that’s not everyone; some are very appreciative.

And you get racism from all angles to be honest with you. Sometimes if you have a student, they will not readily accept what you tell them, and will double check with a healthcare assistant. It’s subtle but it’s there.

But I loved nursing. If I didn’t, I would have resigned ages back because if you look at it, the salary’s really gone down for nurses. I’ve never tried to apply for a higher post, even though one of my managers suggested it to me. If you look at the challenges that you get, you ask yourself if it’s worth it. When you get to my age, there is some stress that you don’t need in life, so you just say, “I’m too old, I will leave it for the young people.”

I retired last year. Nowadays I go to the allotment quite a lot. I grow everything but I especially love pumpkins. There’s fresh air and you meet and learn from different people of all ages and backgrounds.


Shuvai’s story was collected by the Young Historians Project as part of their project “A Hidden History: African Women and the British Health Service, 1930-2000”. Find out more at