The community home is the heart of the activities of the Ruach Foundation. Six people with intellectual disabilities live there because they could no longer receive the care they need in their original homes. Returning home at any time, therefore, is not a realistic option. What follows is an extract from my six-monthly report about the work in and around the community home. Involving the society around us.
Part of my work is involving the society around us, raising awareness and working on a more positive image of people with intellectual disabilities. Specifically this means visiting people and trying to activate them for our work. Due to the recent coronavirus outbreak, I have been less able to do this. We also like to invite those who support us for a cup of coffee or tea as a sign of our appreciation for them. Also, I use whatsapp and e-mail to send short messages to strengthen the bond with people. And I regularly publish blogs, bulletins and newsletters. There is a small group of very loyal friends who support us in various ways, but new well-wishers, sometimes out-of-the-blue, surprise us with a small gift. On average we receive 5 donations per month: plantains, avocados, rice, beans, a cake, etc. Sometimes we receive larger donations from, for example, the students of the San Pablo school, from an organization called ASOPIECAD, and from one friend who organized a food collection among her friends. Then we have a group of professionals who offer their services for free or at a hugely reduced price, including: every six months a medical check-up by an alternative health practitioner for our core members; a dentist who treated Maria Elena; and a physiotherapist who visits us every month to monitor the daily exercises done by 4 of our core members to improve their posture and mobility.
Another role I have is to organize activities inside and outside the home:
- We offer our core members weekly exercises in the pool of restaurant `Los Angeles` 5 km outside Juigalpa. We travel there by transport offered for free by a friend. We go relatively early in the morning, when there are hardly any other people in the pool. Everyone enjoys it! In the high season, (e.g. Easter), or whenever there is a special occasion at ‘Los Angeles’, we use the pool of the San Pedro hotel, which is always peaceful.
- We have half an hour of dancing in the house every week. This is very popular. Everyone dances very well to the music of Shakira and Dimension Costeña
- One Sunday a month, Samuel invites us to his father’s farm, 7 km from Juigalpa. He also has some horses. This change of scenery with the possibility of horse riding makes the day very special. Everyone enjoys their horse rides. We go from 10am to 3pm, and it includes a nice lunch.
- Another very special day for us was the day at the sea (4 hours drive), which was paid for by our visitors, Daniella and Jorge. It was a day from 7am to 8pm. The whole community including the staff came on the outing and everyone enjoyed themselves fully. We went to the same place as last year, which was very good. This way we didn’t have to waste time looking for a suitable beach.
- With the money left over from our trip to the sea last year, we stayed to eat at San Pedro Hotel after our weekly swim twice, on Mother’s Day (May 30) and Children’s Day (June 1) to celebrate these occasions.
Leading the team
Another part of the job is leading the team and responding to the needs of the core members, our residents, and making the team sensitive to the residents’ needs. Until April we had a stable team with only one change of assistant, who helps us with cleaning, cooking and washing. It took little effort to find a good replacement. But during my absence in April, (I was in the Netherlands for 3 weeks), there were frictions in the team which caused the departure of one employee. Because of a shortage of funds within the Foundation, a replacement could not immediately be appointed. In May, the kitchen help/cleaner had a fall, and consequently she was out of action for two weeks, but we managed to have someone standing in for her. In a short period of a few weeks two employees became ill, and the duties needed to be covered by the remaining staff. Fortunately, everyone in the team cooperated well, but all were so fully stretched that it was difficult to take a holiday or even have a day off. Another employee left in June, because she had to do an internship for her studies, and could no longer combine working for us with her studies. She left quite suddenly, because of many not-used leave days, and we were left with only 2 employees in the house to cover 24 hours a day. So I had to help out taking more duties in the Home. On June 20th, we recruited a new employee, without experience, but showing promise. I am now training her: coaching, team building, how to maintain stability at home, etc. There are no training courses in Nicaragua for those who want to work with people with disabilities. So they all enter the community centre because they were looking for ‘work’, but with no experience. None of them know what they’re getting into because our work doesn’t exist in Nicaragua. A trial period of one month is not quite enough to assess whether a new employee has got what it takes to work in our Home.
Another side of working with staff is to sensitize them to the needs of our residents. As our core members are usually not able to express clearly what they think or need, it is up to staff to work out what residents need from the behaviour they display. Then the next challenge is to find the right methodology which helps residents with their development, one small realistic step at a time. Staff turnover causes unrest in the home, because routines are disturbed and new staff do not yet have the required skills. For example, Jonathan is very sensitive to change, because of his need for routine and a plan (he is autistic), but new staff easily deviate from ‘the plan’ without realizing it. This stresses Jonathan, and then he starts to behave in a frustrated manner which is difficult to handle for everyone. Our core members are our best teachers, provided employees learn and understand the lessons. My role is to help staff by ‘translating’ the messages the core members send out. I do this through regular coaching and training sessions, often at the start of the workday when we meet to discuss the day’s programme for each of the core members, and agree on concrete plans for the day.
Once a month I lead a staff training session, the timing dependent on when all staff can be present. This semestre we are working on several themes: mental health; I in teamwork; personal responsibility; and how to supervise each other. And we chose Thursday as the day when team members actually supervise each other in order to give each other feedback from which they can all learn. There is always plenty administrative work to do: updating work documents; producing work materials, systematizing the work, etc.
Maintenance and repairs
Our Home is in an old and poorly maintained building, so there is almost always something to be seen to, with plumbing issues most frequent as our water pipes are quite bad. This semestre we had quite a few problems with the septic tank. It took weeks to get it sorted. I regularly have to find the right person to help us with weakened (wooden) furniture, computer problems, etc. But we are lucky that our helpers only charge us at reduced rates. Two young people from a church helped us paint some walls by donating jars of paint. They were impressed with our work.
We are now in the middle of 2022. We face many challenges at the Community Home and in the activities club, due to ongoing staff turn-over. The Ruach Foundation itself faces financial difficulties, so how do we secure what we have achieved so far? But we have shown that our work is important, and that it is possible to succeed in getting the society around us, near and far, involved. It’s only in working together and communicating well that we can make our dreams come true. I feel grateful and blessed for what has come our way. It has made me stronger and milder, and grateful for all the (inter)national cooperation we have received, the affection and appreciation I feel from so many people. A special thanks to the new board of Vivir Juntos (Ruach’s mother foundation): Ruud, Willy and Henk. They thave taken the time to get to know us and shown their love and commitment to helping us. This support has been of the utmost importance to be able to exist as a Fundación. There are no words to thank you and all of Vivir Juntos’s friends who support us!
Astrid Delleman, Activities Club and Community Home coordinator 30-6-2022