Coming home from school and enjoying 三菜一汤 (a typical Chinese meal of 3 dishes, 1 soup) prepared by her grandmother has been part of Areina’s routine for as long as she can remember. Till today, her favourite meal is a home-cooked Lu Rou Fan made by her po po.
Growing up, Areina’s po po was the embodiment of love, care and strength. “Food has always been our love language. Since young, she always cooks dinner and waits for us to come home to have a meal together. This has always been her way of showing love, and while I used to take it for granted, it’s something I deeply treasure now,” she shares. This bond has translated into her having a soft spot for the elderly and immense respect for those working in eldercare.
I spoke to 20-year-old Care Pro Areina to find out what sparked her interest to join Homage, how she juggles school, social and family activities as an undergraduate student, and on top of that, work freelance as a caregiver?
Areina and her grandmother.
Caregiving role reversal
Since last year, Areina’s po po has been in and out of hospital for a range of reasons, ‘old people things,’ Areina joked. When po po was first admitted, Areina felt helpless as she did not know what to do or how to help. All she and her family could do was rely on the nurses to care for her po po.
While po po is on the road to recovery and remains as cheerful and chipper as always—the nurses Areina met at the hospital have made a huge difference in her recovery. “Being a nurse is not easy. They work such long hours and are often underappreciated, yet they still have a fierce and sincere passion to care for patients like my po po,” she shared. The care and compassion different nurses have shown for her po po, and how they go above and beyond to care for their patients, has stuck with her.
“Not only the nurses, but the care that family members show for their loved ones always inspires me. I sometimes wonder if I’m doing enough for my po po, and remind myself that I can do better. Because of the nurses I’ve met along the way, I had considered studying Nursing. I’ve always had a soft spot for the elderly, and thought I could also learn skills to care for my own po po. While I wound up pursuing a degree in Psychology as I have always been interested in mental health, caregiving with Homage has allowed me to still pick up relevant skills.”
Areina has recently started to recognise that her po po has been starting to age and slow down, and she would at some point have to step into a caregiving role.
“It’s not easy to see a family member that you grew up with—who you’ve known to be strong and independent—slowly become dependent on others. Seeing her health start to decline makes me treasure every moment with her—I really appreciate every home-cooked meal she makes (when she has the energy to), something I used to take for granted. Starting to care for her in recent years has also been a privilege!”
“She has cared for me since young, and it’s only right that I do the same for her as she grows old.”
Areina and her family.
Becoming a freelance caregiver was not part of Areina’s plan
While studying part-time at Kaplan, Areina was looking for a job that she could easily work into her current schedule. “I did not know freelance caregiving was a thing,” Areina shared. “I was googling part-time jobs and came across Homage. I don’t know and have not heard of anyone being a part-time caregiver. I had always thought caregiving or healthcare-related roles were strictly for nurses or those who came from a medical background.”
“After learning more about the job, I decided to apply as a caregiver with Homage as I thought that I could not only give back to society, but could also use what I learnt to also care for my own po po. It would be like killing two birds with one stone—earning some spare cash, and also picking up skills that would be helpful for me and my family,” she added.
“Beyond this, the flexibility of the job is something I really appreciate. Other part-time jobs often require you to work a minimum number of hours, but at Homage, I’m able to take as many or as few visits as I can for the week which is very helpful since I am still in school and may have a last-minute project or assignments to complete. For example, I prefer to take on what we call ‘standby’ requests—which might mean a last-minute booking, or a caregiver was suddenly unavailable,” Areina noted.
From nursing homes to homes, how learning from other nurses has helped her
For Areina, when she first joined Homage, she chose visits that were in nursing homes so she could learn alongside other nurses and translate those skills to home visits.
“When I first started, I wasn’t confident in some of my skills like bed sponging, and figured that taking visits in nursing homes would be better for me and my care recipients. Being new to any role can be daunting, and it is important to learn on the job and be willing to ask for help.”
“I was scared to ask questions at the start as they all looked very busy, but the nurses that I’ve worked with and learnt from have all been super helpful! They always go the extra mile to help and guide me. You just need to ask, and they are always open to share.”
“Working at the nursing homes really helped to build my confidence when I have one-on-one home visits. In terms of the types of visits I often take, I prefer those that require assistance with activities of daily living (ADL) such as showering compared to companionship activities as I feel like I am making more of an impact. To each her own, but I recently had a care recipient who had a fall and fractured both arms and needed help showering. Being able to assist her with a ‘simple’ task was a great feeling!”
Areina with her grandma on a day out.
Joys of caregiving and lessons learnt
Over the past year, Areina has taken over 100 visits and has met care recipients from all walks of life.
“Caring for someone’s parent or grandparent is a privilege and I always try my best to treat them like how I would care for my own po po.”
“While building trust with the care recipient and family from the get-go is not always the easiest, I always remind myself to be patient and just focus on how to best care for them,” Areina shares.
“Meeting care recipients from all walks of life has been the most rewarding part of this job! There is never a dull moment, and I always love to hear their stories and learn from them.”
“One of my favourite memories was bonding over a game of black and white chess with one of my ah-gong care recipients. His family had warned me that as he had early-stage dementia, there might be instances where he would raise his voice, so I was mentally prepared. To my surprise, we started chatting and he offered to teach me black-and-white chess—which was something I was unfamiliar with. He was very patient while teaching me and even gave me multiple chances to win instead of declaring checkmate too soon.”
“He reminded me of my maternal grandmother who currently lives in Malaysia. During Covid-19, we could not visit her and we missed her dearly. She also has dementia, so she does not remember us, but thankfully, is still very happy! Caring for this ah-gong really reminded me of her. Small moments like these which might not seem like much remind me why I enjoy what I do!”
Many often think of the elderly as “frail” and “need help”, and while that may be true to some extent, there’s so much wisdom and knowledge they can share if you’re willing to learn.
Areina added another instance where she cared for an ah ma who taught her a lot. “I spent several consecutive days with her, and she shared so many life lessons and had a great mentality of “when you’re young—have fun, when you’re old—enjoy life!”
“Being able to learn from them is such a privilege, and makes my role as a caregiver incredibly rewarding,” Areina added.
Areina at graduation with her friends.
While caregiving has been enjoyable so far, it can sometimes be exhausting. For Areina, she is incredibly grateful to have a strong support system of family and friends who are always there for her—willing to lend a listening ear and share advice whenever she needs it.
Thank you to the caregivers in our midst for having the heart and passion to care for others—whether family or not. If Areina’s story resonates with you, Homage is always on the lookout for caregivers with a heart to help others. It’s not about having the right qualifications or experience, but is about having the right attitude and passion to care for others.