One of 11 children
Being one of 11 children means family is bound to be an important part of life. Such is the case for Wellington support worker Malia Sului who arrived in New Zealand from her native Samoa in 1989. 'In Samoan culture it's very normal for family to care for their elderly parents when they need it. There are no rest homes. It was caring for both of my in-laws until their deaths that led me to work for Access back in 2001.'
And it's not just her elderly in-laws she has cared for but six children also; five boys and one girl ranging from six to 23 years old. 'I like being able to help people who want to remain independent in their own homes. I am very popular - one client even asked if I could help shower her when she went into a rest home,' laughs Malia. 'I said no they have their own staff to do that.'
When asked what else she likes most about the role, she says, 'All of our clients are different! Fussy ones, old, young, some with dementia or diabetes, knee, balance, blood pressure or heart problems. I help a couple of Muslim ladies from India so we talk about our different cultures. All are so different. Yet they all need help to just get out of bed, shower, to get a cup of tea or clean around the house, and they all want to stay in their own homes. That is important to them.'
Malia says she likes making people's lives better. Having worked in far less fulfilling roles for the Post Office mail sorting room and McDonalds (where she won Person of the Year!) she hopes to never give up her care work, and has even achieved her Level 3 Certificate. Working around 40 hours a week she says she doesn't stop, 'I do get tired. I go home and help my kids with their homework, look after my busy household. But I like the job very much.'
But what are the hardest parts of the role? 'Oh that would be the deaths. One of my clients with a neurodegenerative disease passed away in his 40s. He had a family and was a good spirited man. Then there was a day I couldn't get into one client's home so called my care coordinator for the code to access his house. I found him passed away lying just behind the door. For some people whose family live far away there would be nobody to find them, they would be all on their own if they didn't receive care. I couldn't sleep well for weeks after finding him, every time my mind would play on it. That is the worst, worst part of the job. I feel so sorry for the families.'
So what words of wisdom does Malia leave us with? 'My family are spread all over the place from Samoa to New Zealand and Australia. My 83 year old mother still visits each of us but my brother is always prepared to help her when she returns to Samoa. She keeps active and I always say to keep up your normal routine, never let your age stop you doing things. Don't give up I always say!'