Saturday, December 19, 2009

Work, a four letter word for the source of the 'root of all evil'

I have recently started a sortie into a new career direction.

The back story: I have been a bit disillusioned with my current career recently. Work has seemed more tedious, and new work has been slow in arriving.

I started to look for a new job. Although there are many jobs in IT advertised, most I see either don't exist (fake ads), or the descriptions don't interest me.

Then I went to this job fair for 'mature aged workers'. Sadly all the employers present there were either military or police related, which didn't suit me. There were also lots of organisations selling training services, for careers in industries that aren't hiring, or for shonky medical practices (e.g. aromatherapy, coaching, massage therapy, etc). But there were a number of entities selling the idea of aged/disability care professions. This had never occurred to me before as a potential career choice for myself. But I was surprisingly intrigued with the idea.

I notice whenever I ponder what I want in a career, one thing always is at the core: I want to make the world a better place for others. In IT this translates to making software that improves someones work life, or makes something easier for somebody. Or fixing somebody's IT problem.

So I called an old primary school friend (my best friend at Orono Elementary, Doug Sweetser), who I knew had done some work in this field a few years ago. We talked about his experiences in caring for a physically disabled adult.

Later I found out that another parent who I knew from Ferncourt Primary School (Caelin & Leah's alma-mater) is presently working in the care profession. I have a great deal of respect for Geoff, so I also gave him a call to ask his advice and talk about his experiences. Geoff does respite care for a mentally disabled adult. He suggested that I do some volunteering in the industry to get a feel for it. Besides supporting my decision making process, this could also count as work experience when looking for a job.

I contacted a local organisation that supports volunteering in my area. After a short interview, they gave me a list of organisations to contact that were looking for volunteers. At the top of the list was a company located almost walking distance from my house, and doing exactly what I was interested in: WALCA.

Tuesday is my weekly WALCA day, when I work more or less as a staff member, performing most of the duties of someone who works there, except I don't get paid. I help the participants arrive, feed them, talk with them, walk with them, find them things to do, monitor their progress, and assist when they leave. And I help with cleanup, or anything I am asked to do.

For privacy reasons I cannot discuss WALCA participant details, but I can say most are severely mentally and physically disabled. Most are in wheelchairs, and most have very limited communication abilities. They all require a high level of personal care. Each has different and individual needs and personalities. The challenge for me is to try to understand those needs, to provide my support for them to engage in a more fulfilling life. WALCA does structure daily routines and development plans for each participant, and I will have to develop my own skills to forward those plans.

I am very unfamiliar with people with disabilities. One of those shameful things we often refuse to admit is that we don't always know how to comfortably interact with someone who is different, whether that be because they are in a wheelchair, they are intellectually disabled, they are otherwise physcially disabled, or even if they come from another land with different customs and languages. I don't like to admit it, but I sometime suffer from this embarrassing mild affliction. Still, I endeavour to acknowledge that this happens, notice it, and re-adjust my perceptions so that I can see and interact with all people equally. That said, I find that I really like the participants as people.

With no experience in the caring industry, I am often very uncomfortable with not knowing what to do next, and not knowing how to create the best outcome for each event I encounter. So in that respect I am well outside of my comfort zone.

As I get to know the participants, I am becoming more comfortable with them. It is a real delight to prompt a smile from someone, or see them enjoy something that I often take for granted.

So far (just after a few weeks), although I am a bit uncomfortable with my lack of skills, I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences. I will likely undertake some more professional training. The only problem I have with the career choice is the pay is one of the lowest awards, but that is mostly an ego problem.

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