Below are some stories of all kinds of people from the Hills District, as commissioned by HDI News. You can find these stories and much more at www.HDINews.com.au. HDI News are huge supporters of the project and my colleagues are completely awesome. Check out the online digital mag for free online, and do support our sponsors - they make it all possible!
Westmead "Grandparents" giving families comfort and relief
The experience of needing treatment in hospital is different for all of us, but there’s one thing we all agree on: when kids go to hospital, they need all the tender loving care they can get. That’s why Christine Haines (pictured) has volunteered for the AWCH Hospital Ward Grandparent Scheme since 2012.
Above: Christine Haines, home after a day at Westmead.
Photo: Kath Johnston
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Christine is a retired child and family health nurse, and attributes that career as a reason she began volunteering with the program.
“I was going to miss my babies too much! A former colleague was doing it, and we’d meet up for lunches. She’d be talking about the current child that she was looking after. I decided even before I retired that this was what I was going to do.”
The program has now been running for over thirty years, and is run by the social work department at the Children’s Hospital, under AWCH. Christine says, “The social workers identify families who need help. These families are often from the country, have lots of other children at home, or are new immigrants. They are families who can’t be at the hospital all the time with their child.”
Volunteer “grandparents” are assigned families and visit them two to three times per week while the child is in hospital. When the child is discharged, volunteers can choose to have a break, or be assigned another family.
“I did three days per week for eight months, for a family who had a premature baby. If you do the three days per week, it’s a very big commitment. We’re mostly there to care for the child and give the parents a break, but sometimes the parents will stay and we’ll have a chat. Often they’re from the country and they don’t have anyone else, so often I find my counselling skills are good, just for listening. But the main thing we do is care for the child. We don’t do anything medical, and as a retired nurse I find that to be one of the best parts of it! We change nappies, feed them and bathe them. The physios come and show us what to do. It’s just like being a surrogate grandmother, really. Whatever grandparents would do, we do.”
When asked about what she personally gets out of volunteering with the scheme, Christine says that the volunteers all tend to agree that they get as much out of it as they give. There are about fifteen volunteers currently involved, and monthly meetings are held to enjoy lunch together and debrief together.
“The social workers, the parents, and the doctors all appreciate us, and everyone thanks us for being there. It’s nice to be appreciated. It’s a really nice feeling, doing something that you know is helpful. I enjoy meeting people from all different cultures, and it’s a very satisfying role. The children have somebody with them. When I was doing my nursing, visiting was only allowed for one hour a day, so the children were lying in their cots alone. Now, they always have someone by their side. They’re not alone, and they feel reassured.”
Christine has cared for children who range from between newborn age to thirteen years of age. She talks with them and reads stories, and even teaches some of the older children how to knit, saying that the companionship is at the heart of the role for the ward grandparents.
When asked about the sacrifices of time and energy as part of her volunteering with the hospital, Christine replies, “That’s an interesting question, actually, because I really don’t see it as a sacrifice. I just get so much out of it.”
SydWest Multicultural Services launches a new program for multicultural mums and bubs
“We provide information about parenting, and about how to raise kids in Australian society. We also provide health information, such as a session about diabetes. It’s about educating and empowering them, as well as passing on information.”
Sonia Kalsi, SydWest Multicultural Services
Photo: Kath Johnston
Each Wednesday morning, local mothers from many cultural backgrounds are gathering at Bert Oldfield Public School to make new friends. In attendance are currently a handful of women who were from the Phillipines, China, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. It’s all part of a support program designed to reduce social isolation and empower culturally-diverse families. Sydwest workers who are themselves culturally diverse (Indian and Maltese Australians) provide facilitation while providing childcare onsite so that these mothers – mostly of preschool-aged children - can spend time together in a supportive environment.
Facilitator Sonia Kalsi says, “The group is very new. The school is such a good facility, and this is the room where the mums gather. We also provide childcare with experienced childcare workers, which is in the other room. This is so that the mums are free to do things together! It runs from 9:30 until 11:30. We do different information sessions. We have been doing cooking, and the women have each cooked something from their own culture; the country they represent. It has been very successful.”
The program includes information sessions and also components that the women decide on together, and the group has recently decided to take part in meditation and yoga classes together. This takes care of the psychosocial needs of mothers as well as providing a playgroup for their children.
Sonia says, “We provide information about parenting, and about how to raise kids in Australian society. We also provide health information, such as a session about diabetes. It’s about educating and empowering them, as well as passing on information.”
The group includes some women who have been in Australia for up to a decade, but other women in the group are relatively new arrivals, with one member, Suzette, only arriving in Australia last August. Social isolation can be a part of the migration experience for new mothers when extended family have remained in their country of origin. For many cultures of the world, the relationship between children and their grandparents is an important part of the traditional family system. However, groups like the Multicultural Mother’s Support Group in Seven Hills provides “aunties” and even pseudo-grandparents such as Bhagwadi Chaulian, who attends without children but is of mature age.
“I have been so comfortable with this group from the first day,” says attendee Naila Tabbasum, originally from Pakistan. “This is my only time to talk with adults, when at home I am only talking with the kids! Each week, I anticipate the Wednesday.” Naila’s friend Suzette, who moved to Australia from the Phillipines last August, adds, “I only joined recently, and this is my second term. Naila encouraged me to come along. I’m here because I know I’ll learn something and have fun… and I need to come out and make friends with others! Also, I need to prepare my daughter to mingle with other kids. Since coming here I have learned so many things, and made so many friends.”
Something the entire group agrees upon: motherhood is essentially the same across all cultures, and sharing the experience of motherhood is a joy for this group that transcends cultural differences.
A Healthy Friendship
When Nathan and his best friend get home from work in soiled workboots and big smiles one rainy June afternoon, they are cradling strawberry seedlings. One of Nathan’s support workers, Eileen, recommends a sunny spot in the garden for them, and Nathan plonks his bag down before finally collapsing into a chair to speak to me. By day, Nathan works fulltime in a wholesale nursery, but after work, he works out. Since June 2016, Nathan has lost an extraordinary sixty kilograms.
Nathan lives in a tidy home in Galston and has daily visits between his two main support workers; Andrew and Eileen. Nathan has a diagnosis of Prader-Willi Syndrome, also known simply as “PWS”. The home he lives in is managed by Interaction, which is based in Baulkham Hills. Interaction is fast positioning itself as Australia’s authority on Prader-Willi Syndrome, attracting families from across the country who require specialised care. Most importantly for Nathan, however, is the fact that Interaction has connected him with a Social Educator on staff by the name of Andrew.
Nathan grew up near Gosford with his parents and first joined the service two years ago. I asked him to teach me in his own words about the challenges of PWS.
“I used to be unhappy with my eating or would take food from other people. I’m really proud of my exercising. I’m happy that I’m losing weight. I control myself. I eat salad, and soup. I enjoy weights. I like the clothes and I have my first jeans. After a workout, I feel tired, but I feel great. I exercise with Andrew on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”
Andrew says, “When I began working with Nathan, the house manager Eileen had already done such an amazing job with his diet and weight loss. I just had the easy part of making workout programs for Nathan. Nathan has always expressed a keen interest in running, walking, lifting weights or doing conditioning circuits, so for him it was just a matter of doing up programs and showing him how to perform the exercises. Then, it became about pushing him beyond what he thought his limits were.”
I ask Andrew what his first impression of Nathan was, and what he has since learned about him, which provokes an instant smile. “My first impression of Nathan was that he just looked like a big cuddly bear. What I’ve learned about Nathan in seven months is that he is a big cuddly bear! Seriously though, Nathan is a beautiful man. No words could describe how proud I am of him. Not only has Nathan changed himself but he has changed me as well. I’ll be forever grateful to this man for allowing me to help him in his life’s journey. Nathan now just never stops. He never gives up and he never quits. The more I learn about him the more it’s noticeable he’s defying the odds. Prader-Willi Sydrome or not, we can all learn something from him.”
Left: After the workday is done, Nathan and Andrew hit the oval and work out!
Photo: Kath Johnston for HDI News
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