Life is full of twists and turns — we don’t really know where we would end up. For example, my path to working in Community Care was not straightforward. I deliberated about going into other fields, but eventually chose Community Care because I felt that I would be good at it, and that it was a job that honoured my grandmother.
Why I went into Community Care
My grandmother passed away when I was in primary school. I was close to her and I've always regretted not being able to take care of her back then. This makes me want to take care of others like her, and give back to the community.
That is one of the reasons I chose to pursue a course in Community Care and Social Services at ITE East. I joined the Tsao Foundation right after graduating from school.
Now, more than four years later, I can say that I love it here. This is what I want to do in the long term. Seeing my clients smile, and knowing that I had a part in making their lives better, put me in a good mood.
The challenges and lessons I’ve learnt
I still remember my first day at work. I was 19, very uncertain and insecure. I remember thinking, “Why are the clients staring at me?” Being a very introverted person, I started having negative thoughts about why they were staring, and assumed they were wondering, “Who is this small girl and what is she doing here?” Thankfully, a colleague helped me ease into the job, and I learnt to get along with the clients. I have since figured out that our clients are curious about new people, so they will always scrutinise new faces who come to the centre.
I have to admit, it was tough for me at first. A few of our clients have dementia and behavioural quirks. For instance, some would suddenly get angry at me for no reason, or have an outburst. I couldn’t help but cry during these times — I still cry sometimes, actually. But I learned how to cope when those instances happen.
I’d go home and sleep — it’s a good way to forget your troubles. I also coped by dancing. I’ve been doing Malay dance since Primary One, and started doing K-pop dance covers a little over two years ago. That, plus going to cafes with friends and doing film photography, has helped to serve as a distraction from the challenges.
But I still had to tackle the challenges head-on, of course. Over the years, I've learned to be very patient and resilient. I used to be very hot-tempered. If someone were to shout at me, I would fight back. But now, I have learned not to react quickly. When clients are upset or have an outburst, I tell myself that they are human beings with emotions that they can’t always control, especially those with dementia. And I tell myself it’s going to be OK — this is a journey we are on together.
What also helped was learning their dialects. I have learned to chat with them in their dialect. Now, I can proudly say that I can communicate with them very well. I love listening to their stories. I mean, some of them have survived World War II! You can actually learn a lot from their experiences.
Building meaningful relationships on the job
I have also gotten close to a few of them. One of my favourites is Mdm Cecilia Ho. Our relationship is somewhat like that of a grandmother-granddaughter. I can see that she cares for me and can see if I am happy or sad. For example, if I were very quiet, she would ask why I’m sad, or would ask me how I am.
One time, she invited me to her place for Chinese New Year. She lives alone with only a helper to care for her. It was late when I reached her place, and she was already in bed. I later learned that she had been waiting for me in her living room since morning. She then gave up and went to lie down in her bedroom when it looked like I wasn’t coming. So when I arrived, you could see her face really light up. I was very touched by that. Another of my favourites is Cecilia’s friend. They sit together at the same table at the centre. But it’s more of a challenge to communicate with her because of the language barrier. We do try and through gestures, and common words and phrases, we manage to communicate somehow.
Finding my place under the sun
Some of my friends and acquaintances have misconceptions about this job and tease me that my job involves washing butts. I would just tell them that it’s my job to take care of my clients' needs. I love my clients. I take care of them like my own family. Just imagine if they were your parents, who’s going to care for them when the time comes? That will usually make them stop and think.
I think I found my place under the sun, so to speak. This is where I belong. In fact, working here made me interested in learning more about human behaviour, hence I've gotten a Diploma in Psychology.
I can see myself still working in the Community Care sector in 10 years — hopefully, in a higher position! I think young people like myself can have meaningful careers in this sector — especially if they have an affinity for taking care of people, of seniors.