One of the HammondCare Communications team members joins the staff, residents and volunteers at HammondCare Woy Woy for a very special day.
A lady wearing a turquoise dressing gown and pink ugg boots catches my eye when we walk into the all-female cottage at HammondCare Woy Woy. She has long white hair and a look of youthfulness about her. I go over and say hello. She introduces herself as Velma and asks me what’s going on.
I’m there with a couple of Fijian volunteers, Semi and Fiona, who are planning to sing, do some palm leaf weaving and tell stories as a way of engaging the residents.
Semi and Fioni with residents at HammondCare Woy Woy.
Semi starts to arrange a woven mat on the floor; Velma wants to help.
A careworker comes over to Velma who’s still pulling out the edges of the woven mat. “Perhaps you could get dressed for the performance, Velma?”
“Who’d want to see a silly show?” she says as she continues to help Semi lay out the mat.
Semi and Fiona have been volunteering at HammondCare for a year and a half. Fijian migrants, they’re without work as they wait for their paperwork and permanent residency to come through. So instead, they spend their days volunteering.
“We don’t like sitting around. We want to do something for the community, for the people,” Fiona tells me.
“We don’t have any thing to give, but we give our love,” Semi says in his warm, gentle voice.
That morning, they’ve visited the bedside of one of the residents who is dying. She was close to them, and they are working through their grief at saying goodbye, reflecting on the time they’ve just spent with her.
“After we read the word and we prayed for her then I called her name and she moved her eyebrow. I knew she wanted to say something, but I was saying ‘It’s ok, it’s ok.’ It’s so hard to watch her go,” says Semi.
The couple visit HammondCare once a week, spending time in the cottages socialising with the residents, and are known for providing prizes when they play games. One enthusiastic resident refers to them as “Mr and Mrs Chippy” because of the fried salty treats they bring. But once a month, they run ‘Fiji Day’, a showcase of their cultural heritage.
Today’s the first time they’ve visited this particular cottage to share their culture, so their arrival is greeted with a hushed curiosity.
As Semi sits down and starts weaving a bird out of palm leaves, Fiona sings some familiar old tunes.
Within a few minutes, Velma emerges from her room, dressed.
There’s a smile on her face as she sits down to watch Semi intently. When he’s done weaving the bird it’s passed around to the women watching.
Velma takes a liking to the bird and asks if she can keep it. She pops it on her shoulder, then tucks it safely into her walker.
A few seats down from her is Ruth, who is clapping and singing along with the music. The Volunteer Coordinator, Tania hands her a Djembe and encourages her to hit it. Her face lights up, feelings of competency and creativity taking over her initial nervousness at making noise.
Ruth joins in on the Djembe.
Before long the volunteers have the majority of the residents up and dancing, smiles exploding on their faces, voices getting louder.
Velma is one of the first to join in dancing. She puts her arm around one of Semi and Fiona’s Fijian friends as they move around the room laughing.
Soon the hour is up and everyone is applauding the visitors who have brought joy into their home. Some are asking when they might return.
By this point, Velma has managed to lay claim to the only other woven item made my Semi this morning: a beautiful basket of hibiscus flowers.
Speaking later with Semi and Fiona, it’s not the first time they’ve made an impact on the residents.
“One of the men had been nagging for a few days to go fishing,” tells Semi. “He kept saying, ‘I just want to pull out a fish from the water’. So I quickly told a story about how I went out fishing in Woy Woy and at the same time I was weaving a fish and a rod out of palm leaves.
“When I finished I said, ‘Hold the rod. Pull it up a little bit. And then I said ‘Hey you caught a fish!’ And he said ‘Oh, I was just waiting for this moment. I’ve been waiting so long.’ It just calmed him right down.”
The couple attribute their understanding of older people to their upbringing. Semi was raised by his grandparents, while Fiona lived in a large family-oriented community back home in Fiji.
It’s clear from their time in the cottage today they have an endless supply of love to give.
“That’s us, we love to create joy,” says Semi. “No matter what situation the residents are in or what they’re going through, when we start to create that joy we’re so happy to see that they are in to it.”
As I go to leave the cottage Velma is admiring her special mementos. She looks chuffed as she walks down the corridor with the woven bird peeking its head out of her walker and the basket balancing on the seat.
Velma with her woven bird.