Companion for Fellow Carers – “During my days as a carer, singing was my only stress relief; the support from The Salvation Army also helped me a lot.”
20 years ago, Vikki’s father, who was the main support of the family, began to need long-term care after an operation. Suddenly, a big responsibility fell onVikki’s shoulders as she had to start taking care both her weak father and her mother with mood disorder, who were both living with Vikki at that time. Many things were challenging for Vikki as a new caregiver, from pushing wheelchair to taking care her parents’ daily life, and she needed to do all these while working a full-time job. The pressure was tremendous. During her tough journey as a carer, the weekly gatherings with companions from The Salvation Army Carer Project and the mutual support and sharing between fellow caregivers in the group have become her source of support.
Active support motivated by deep empathy for fellow carers
Few years ago, Vikki’s caregiver role came to an end. She would have enjoyed the retirement life, but with a sense of enthusiasm she joined The Salvation Army Carer Project, doing volunteer work that supports other caregivers. ‘Vikki is very enthusiastic. Based on her caregiver experience, she can often see from the perspective of caregivers and notice their needs. She gave us highly practical advice when we planned our projects and future service approach,’ said Carson, the project officer of the “Stand-by U” Caregivers Community Support Project (Central Kowloon).
From a social worker, Vikki heard about the Caregivers Ambassador Project. The Project reminded her of her aspiration of helping fellow caregivers with her own experience, so she joined the first programme course. ‘This is a very meaningful project which really appeals to me. And I like trying new things so I decided to join this 2-year new programme. I hope I can do my best and work with my fellow ambassadors to promote the supporting of carers and to help more people.’ Vikki said that the contents of the course is very useful and practical; in her days of being a carer, she mainly learnt elderly care knowledge from internet or books, which may not be always correct, thus she has made many mistakes. The courses for Caregiver Ambassadors cover theories and formal caring skill training which she can incorporate with her own knowledge and experience, making it more effective for her to support other caregivers.
Regular caring contact to help balancing the overwhelming life of carers
Vikki finished the course in April this year and now she has began to provide support including caring phone calls and regular home visits to families of elderly doubletons assigned to her through matching by the “Stand-by U” Project. She attends to caregivers when they share their needs and worries, and she brings them supplies such as daily commodities and carer support pamphlets. The regular contact helps carers to stay connected with outside and have more social interaction.
So far Vikki has been supporting the caregivers for 6 months through regular caring calls and visits. She pointed out that some caregivers have pressing needs of outside support. She recalled a case where she called a carer on phone to do some survey and from their conversation she knew that the carer was having a hard time taking care of her mother. “Because there are no family members to share the caring responsibilities, that carer needed to quit her job and take care her mother with dementia, at the same time she is estranged from her husband. Besides noting down the information of her case so our project staff could follow up later, I listened attentively to her, being there for her as she released her emotions. By the time we visited her in person, we were happy to see that she was no longer as depressed as we heard on the phone.”
Caregiver Ambassadors prepared everything by themselves for their regular-based visits, from preparing the supplies to planning the home visit route. It is a demanding task, but what keeps Vikki doing it is a sense of mission, which is helping caregivers during the tough and long journey of caring. “What I have gained from being a Caregiver Ambassador is the satisfaction of sharing my knowledge with other carers; being able to help others increases my self-confidence as well.”
“Stand-by U” Caregivers Community Support Project
Sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, "Stand-by U" Caregivers Community Support Project aims to build up interactive networks for caregivers in various stages, and to provide systematic trainings, diversified theme seminars and workshops to enhance caregivers’ abilities. At the same time, the Project recruits Caregiver Ambassadors to support fellow caregivers, and has so far trained 56 Caregiver Ambassadors who are able to support the needs of caregivers from the aspects of mind, body, social contact and spirit, helping to relieve the pressure of caregivers who take on the caring role all by themselves. Former caregivers and pre-caregivers are invited to be Caregiver Ambassadors and Part-time Caregivers. Telephone concern calls and home visits to caregivers will be arranged after the completion of systematic training, which includes caring knowledge and skills. Moreover, the project team will propose tailor-made “Relief Support” in-home elder sitting services to enhance the caring quality.