Glimpses from our coordinator’s report for January-June 2021
Part of my job is to involve society in our work, to create awareness. In concrete terms: I’m visiting people, trying to activate them for our work, etc. I was less able to do this recently because of the COVID pandemic. I have used Whatsapp and emails a lot more to send short messages so as not to lose the link with people. There is always administrative work to do: updating work documents, designing new stimulating work materials, checking work schedules, reporting on the ‘achievements’ of each of our residents against their development goals, etc.
We have a small group of very loyal friends who support us in various ways. We regularly get surprise visits from people who would like to meet us or who come to bring a gift. To two of the regular visitors we gave a special gift, a model of our Ruach Community in clay, as a sign of our gratitude. One of them is a hairdresser who has been coming to our house for years when we ask him to cut tour residents’ hair. The other one is Daniella (my daughter who lives in Ecuador), who has been helping us with Facebook for a long time. Our work is becoming more and more known outside Juigalpa. From Bluefields and Masaya families came asking if we could welcome one of their intellectually disabled relatives, one of whom also has certain psychiatric problems. It is up to our Ruach board to give an initial response to such requests.
Another of my tasks is to organize/coordinate activities in and outside the home
- We have our weekly exercises in the pool at the Los Angeles restaurant. We go early in the morning with private transport (courtesy of a friend) when there are hardly any people in the pool. In the holiday season, at Easter, we diverted to the pool of the Las Piñitas restaurant as it was quieter there.
- We hold weekly ‘dance half hours’. We started these when at the beginning of the pandemic we had to cancel trips to the pool. The home dancing has become so popular that the dancing is now a Home tradition! Especially the music of Shakira and Dimensión Costeña makes our people swing!
- One Sunday a month, from 10 a.m to 3 p.m including lunch, Samuel invites us to his father’s farm, 5 km from Juigalpa. He also has some horses there. It is a day of rest and change of scenery, with the possibility of horse riding. Everyone enjoys being on horseback. • We also went to a ‘Stimulation Centre’ one morning, with transport from the Ministry of Health, to do exercises with the support of a physiotherapist. We would have liked these visits to become more regular, but coordinating this with the Ministry was unsuccessful.
- However, with financial support from friends we were able to employ a physiotherapist who comes to our Home once a month to work on an exercise schedule for some housemates. Our staff are trained to keep the exercises going with the core members, in between the physiotherapist’s visits.
- A highlight for everyone was a day outing to the sea at La Boquita, paid for by money we earned from a raffle organized with the help of our friends from the Juigalpa bookshop. It was a long day (the journey to the sea is about 4 hours!), but all residents and staff had a great time. • With the money left over from the trip to the sea, we went to have lunch with everyone from the Community Home at Los Angeles to celebrate Mother’s Day (May 30) and Children’s Day (June 1).
Fortunately, our residents are in general healthy. But because not all of them can indicate if something is physically wrong, I like to occasionally take them to a holistic doctor who does not need words for a comprehensive health check. On average 1 visit the doctor with a resident once a month.
I had to go with Manuel to the dentist several Thursdays in a row to fix his terribly bad teeth. In June he got a prosthesis.
Another part of my job is to be alert as to what is happening in the Home. The first half of 2021 was characterized by team instability after a stable period in the preceding two years. We started January with training two new employees. In March, two other experienced staff left, both due to health problems in their families. Consequently we ended up with a team of 4 with very little experience in working with people with intellectual disabilities.
(There are no training courses for those who want to work with people with disabilities in Nicaragua, so all candidates apply for a job without experience, or a real understanding of what is involved). A trial period of one month is very short when someone is so new to the job. Often I give them an extended trial period. But ultimately we cannot accept a ‘weak link’ and I opt for quality, although it means an extended period of high staff turn-over. So I have had a few tough months of training, coaching, team building, and looking for ways to maintain stability at the Home.
Since April we have had three staff who work satisfactorily. We are still looking for a ‘living-in’ home care assistant. Fortunately we have some promising candidates for interviews which will be held next week. In January we had a vacancy for a night care assistant for three evenings a week. We found the right person and we now have two night care assistants who can be called upon when e.g the living-in home care assistant is off-duty. We need to maintain two supervisory staff every night.
Impact on the resident core members of the Home
Staff changes cause unrest among the core members. Routines are broken, new staff are less well tuned-in to the needs of the core residents, because they observe less well and are not trained in interpreting what they see. For example: Jonathan is very sensitive to change because of his need for a routine and a plan (autism). New staff may unwittingly change routines and plans which frustrates Jonathan and makes him behave in a way difficult to handle for people around him. Our core residents are our best teachers if we learn to understand their lessons. My aim as teacher and supervisor is to make sure new employees understand that the behaviour of our residents very much depends on their own behaviour. How staff behave can dull resident’s ‘fire’ or make the fire flare up. When something goes wrong, I usually say: `50% is due to the other person, 50% is due to your response. And that means that staff must use their ‘50%’ to influence the behaviour of the other, hopefully in time to prevent escalation of emotions. Observing one’s own behaviour is not inherent in the Nicaraguan way of doing things, but this switch in thinking needs to be made for an employee to be able to work well in the Community Home. Peace and stability in the Home depend on it.
The Activities Club: brief updates of work from January up to now
- At the beginning of the year we took the next step in returning to ‘pre-COVID normality’: from February we admitted again Activities Club participants who live near the Community Home. So William came again for two afternoons. However, in May he left because he prioritized other activities. And Renee joined again in March for two afternoons. We keep the number of participants per afternoon at a maximum of five, so we are able to maintain appropriate distance between the work tables.
- On March 1, Wilfredo joined the group after having visited us with his mother some time earlier to ask whether he could join us. He stayed with us only for 6 weeks as his mother fell ill. We contacted the mother several times, but she stopped sending Wilfredo.
- In February, Ingrid, the activities supervisor/coach, left for a better job and was replaced by Neydi. In April, Neydi joined the team in the Community Home and was, in turn, replaced by Maria who is in her probationary month.
- I regularly observe the activities in the Club to get an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of what is happening; to propose ideas to improve the methodology and care; to give explanations and training (autism, intellectual disability, mothers’ understanding of a child with disabilities, causes of why babies with disabilities are born, etc.); and to review weekly schedules and monthly evaluation to improve the quality of work.
- We have started corresponding through drawings, photos and short simple texts with an Activities Club in France through a staff member there who got us in touch. So far we have sent and received 6 letters. The responsible person in France is now on maternity leave, which affects the contact.
- In March 4 participants of our Club worked in the Juigalpa bookshop from 10 a.m to 3.30 p.m. to increase the visibility of our work. All four enjoyed the experience, especially being pampered by the staff! The bookstore is one of two places in Juigalpa where we sell the piñatas made by the members of the club. Besides some regular income, it also gives us recognition.
- In June the Activities Club was invited by Juan Pablo Segundo University to participate in a fair where students presented their projects to the public. A group of students also highlighted the work of the Ruach Fundación, and raised some money for us which was spent on a large box of materials for the Activities Club.
We are grateful and feel blessed for what has come our way. Our work is not easy, but facing challenges has made us stronger and more beautiful. We are particularly grateful for all the (inter)national cooperation received; and for the affection and appreciation that so many people give us. Can we count on your on-going support? Together we can make a difference. We will keep showing it!