Monday Jan 08, 2024

Vital People - A Career in Caregiving at DDA

Ratnam Mathur is one of our valued group home managers who, like many staff at DDA, found a calling that pulled them off a defined path and into a career that meant so much more than money and fancy titles.  



Vital People – A Career in Caregiving at DDA



Welcome back to DDA's Encouraging Abilities podcast. I am your host, DDA Communications Manager, Evan Kelly. Today we're talking about caregiving as a profession. To me, it's a profession that we as a society often take advantage of. We don't look at it as one of those jobs that you shoot for necessarily. It doesn't have the cache of doctor, lawyer, CEO, or what have you. But these jobs are vital, not just to the people DDA supports. They don't always come with the highest wage or even respect, which is wrong in my mind.



caregivers are vital to everyone in the literal world. At some point in our lives, if not now, at some point we will all need care, whether it's at a home because of illness or injury or a seniors home or a group home like the ones DDA operates, we are all going to be touched by this need and this profession. So I wanted to shine a light on one of the dedicated employees here at DDA and talk about who they are and what they do and why.



Joining me today is Ratnam Madhur. She is a long time employee of DDA and manages our Curzon Group Home that five people with developmental disabilities call home. Many of the clients we support in our 19 homes in Vancouver and Richmond have been with us for decades. I mean, they literally become family. So Ratnam, thank you for joining me today. Thank you, Evan. Thank you for inviting me. So just right off the top here, what got you started in this line of work?



Prior to coming to Vancouver, I taught in a school in Germany that had many kids from refugee families. They were from Albania, Romania, Turkey, and other European countries. Some kids were separated from their parents and were waiting for their arrival. A social worker was assisting the kids in their different needs. These kids were going...



through struggles to adjust a new culture in their relationship to other students. In their learning and doing homework, it was obvious to me that their families too were going through difficulties at home. Trying to cope with their status as a refugee, I spent time with kids and listened to their stories. I did not speak German, nor they spoke English, but working with some very simple words.



in English and German, and with the help of a social worker, we made enough connection to understand what was going on in their lives. These kids needed a lot of help to cope with pressures of studies and at school, as well as in dealing with their trauma and mental health challenges. It was challenging for me to win their trust and to create a helpful environment.



so that I could help them in their studies and sometimes their families at home as well. This first-hand experience for about three years gave me a unique perspective on empathy and value of community service. So when we moved to Vancouver in 2003,



I wanted to continue in this field at schools as special needs teacher, but my work permit did not allow me. So how come the work permit wouldn't allow you to be a special needs teacher? Because I was on NAFTA, I have a US passport, and they don't allow to work, the spouse was not allowed to work with kids and schools. So much so that I could not even take the courses. Really? Yeah. So take me, so you're in Germany at this point.



And you're helping kids with, no they were developmentally disabled? No, no, actually they called those schools as international schools and mostly that international is refugee kids from all.



over neighborhood countries. What sort of challenges did you face there with, like, I mean, obviously there was some language difficulty. Absolutely. They are also learning German, and you cannot survive there without learning Deutsch. So that was it. And you know, kids are really good at picking up the language. That was not an issue. The issue was the all struggle, they have come through that. Because from family, when people are arriving,



It's not the whole family coming together. It's one at a time. So that is a challenge. Sometimes kids come and the parents come later. So the social worker plays a really very very important role. So that must be some emotional challenges to deal with as well. Absolutely. Emotional, mental, like you know, to adjust with the culture and with the kids and you know, to be just normal.



And did you find that it was a very successful system over there in Germany? How was it similar to here? I think I don't know the system here for the refugees so much, but I was surprised. They have a very good system there.



a lot of resources in the school, especially for the kids. I don't know all over how they'd go, but working with this social worker, I came to know that they have a lot of resources. They help with kids like, you know, throughout their journey till high school, till they...



complete that. Where did these kids mostly come from? Romania, Kosovo, Albania, all neighborhood countries. Must be sort of interesting seeing the political upheaval in all these countries. Absolutely, absolutely. I feel sometimes in Canada we're quite isolated and protected. Yes, we are protected, that's true.



I feel safe to be here. Absolutely it is. Sometimes we take that for granted. You came from Germany to...



the United States and then to Canada? No, actually I got, I'm from India. I got married there. My husband was in Yale at, in US, Connecticut. Oh, he went to Yale? Yeah. Oh, wow. So my, so I stayed over there. And then I'd say about five years we moved to Boston and there I started working in multicultural school, in the bank.



moved to Germany. It's all because of my husband's job.



Okay, and how long did you live in Boston? That's interesting. Oh almost nine years really cuz I my my family spent a year in Boston This is an aside on this podcast now He's any of my dad today a second master's degree at Harvard when he was with the government Saskatchewan other so yeah, my husband was working for Harvard too. What does he do? Oh, he does research Okay, he was doing research that time nine years in Boston. What do what part of Boston did you live in? Oh, we were suburb Norwood



Almost 45 minutes from the main town. We were in Belmont, Massachusetts, near Cambridge. Those are very expensive, couldn't afford that. It was good. My memory was quite young, grade 4, grade 5, so my memory of Boston is quite good. Anyway, back on point. So you got to Canada and you wanted to keep working in this field.



What is your education and what is your actual expertise? I have done my masters in commerce and I have done my double graduate in English literature and B.Com English literature. Yeah Right that right then all my education is done in India



And yes, when I, you know, that is what I tell my kids too, that you never know what you want to be. Like, you know, after graduation, after this, there was some hollow in it. Like, you know, I worked in Boston, I worked in the bank. And, but still I need to know what.



So when I got this opportunity in Germany, working with a social worker, that time I felt that, yes, this was it. More of a synergy. Yeah. And so, I mean, you did your commerce degree and English literature, I mean, wow, you've got some education behind you there. And you worked in the bank in Germany, that was the only time you sort of used that particular degree? I...



I used that in Boston too, my degree, because over there I was actually looking forward to complete my CA. My credentials were all approved, so I was about to go into that direction. Oh, I see. But I think you raised such a good point, because about, you know...



what it is we educate ourselves with, what we think we should be chasing versus what we end up wanting to do. And so what...



I mean, you helped the refugees in Germany. And so what made you keep wanting to do this here in Canada? Yeah, when I moved in Vancouver, I was looking into the same field. But because of some restriction on my work permit, I could not. Then I started exploring the nonprofit organization. Like, you know, and, but with that, I want, because my kids were in school,



to get a full-time job. So during that time, I got employed by Indian Consulate. I was working there. That's here in Vancouver? That's here in Vancouver in downtown. And then I saw this posting, DDA posting. And I applied for it and that's what I got. What was that posting? Oh, it was Grandview CSW.



in a Granview Day program. That time it used to be called. So CSW was a community support worker, and that's where it started. Was that a full-time job when you started? It was, yes, it was a full-time. And was it what you were expecting? I mean, had you worked with people with developmental disabilities before? Not directly, but during this I had learned a lot about it. And when I started...



working. I even picked a few courses online and, you know, update, upgrade myself. Did DDA support you through that? Absolutely, it did. I think that very year I was very lucky to get involved with direct support worker course. That was our pilot project at DDA and that helped me a lot too. Oh, that's good. And so, I mean, when you applied for that, did you know much about DDA at the time?



But as on work, I started. But you knew, you knew this is the direction you wanted to go. Absolutely. That time I was really clear. Yes. I mean, yeah, that's it. I mean, you're the kind of people we want. People who make that decision in life, it's like, I'm here to help and give back. And so how? Sometimes I think that it's too late, but never late. Too late for what? What do you mean? I mean, too late to, at that age.



to see what you want to do in life. Yeah, well, you know, as long as, I guess, I guess as long as you're not dead, you can make a change. That's so positive. And so with that said, now, how long have you been with DDA? Almost 19 years this year. 19 years, so we're coming up on 20 years. That's unbelievable. Yeah, yeah. And so I guess, why is this line of work important to you?



Well, I have always found working with people with disabilities deeply satisfying to me. I want to be their voice where they don't. To help them think positively that they too have potential to learn new things, take part in activities just like you and me, and to be happy in exploring and enjoying everything in life just like others.



The joy of seeing our supported clients gaining confidence day by day, learning that new skills and enjoying themselves fills me with great satisfaction. So and that's it too. I mean you get that feeling of doing something good for the community, doing something for people who can't speak for themselves all the time. You know, we're all about...



self-advocacy and making sure that, you know, one of the big tenements of DDA is making sure our clients...



make their own decisions and make sure they're driving their own path. So being part of that must be, even from my position, it's a very good thing and a very good feeling. So given your experience of going back to Germany, going through all of your other jobs, what do you feel like DDA is doing right? What can we improve upon?



First of all, I will highly suggest everyone at DDA to watch our award-winning movie, Doing the Impossible. It's a deeply personal journey for many clients and their families. At that time, they were under institutional care that had its own damaging effects on the families.



After watching this movie, we can see how far DDA has come in its 72 years. We personally connect quality of service to the clients.



care we provide and witnessing happiness in the lives of people we touch every day. Yeah, that's the movie she's talking about rather the documentary is doing the impossible. It's something the Communications Department put together last year and it's since won three British Columbia Leo Awards. It really is.



the, it's what's called doing the impossible, the story of the developmental disabilities association where one woman, Leo LaPurdy took, you know, decided to buck the trend and keep her child out of institutions. You know, and 72 years later, here we are, you know, 500 plus employees and institutions in British Columbia are gone and community living is here.



DDA is all about and what this line of work means and the changes it can actually bring. So tell me about the people at Curzon. Tell me there's five individuals you support? Yes all five individual quite different in their age and cultural background. Very loving, full of life, music, dancing, partying is what they like, playing sports.



but also having a big heart to give back to their community. Big message they give out to the world is respect, love, peace, and they enjoy together. They are always ready to reach out to help others, whether it's shortage of food at the food bank or a natural disaster like floods or calls for peace in the world.



They are always ready and willing to help out in their very own way. If you walk in Richmond around Curzon neighborhood, you will very likely notice a client's name on Adopt the Street polls and even Richmond Dykes. They also volunteer at Meals on Wheel, delivering food to the seniors. One of the residents advocate for recycling used items.



Whenever he buys new clothes without being asked, he will get the old ones out from his closet to donate. A big, strong personality. So is that a big part of DDA programming? I kind of cloister myself a little bit at head office doing my thing, but when it comes to our clients in the community,



there's a big drive to get them involved in that stuff. I mean, they want to anyway, but I like, I find, you know, like with the food bank donations, there's, you know, that's sort of a cyclical, I guess seasonal as well. Yes, you know.



Clients are very busy in the community. They know what is happening around. That's the part our staff plays a role in our client's life. They communicate, they talk, they help them to read the newspaper, help them to understand what's happening around the world. When they are watching TV and news, they will ask question. Like, you know, I remember the first time






fundraising for Pakistan flood relief. That was our first one. And that happened through the client. He was watching movie. He saw the person. He saw a kid who they showed that he's looking for food to eat or drink water. And he's the first thing came out from him is, oh, if he's here, I will take him to McDonald's and I will buy his lunch. So that spoke so



and we thought, let's think about it. And we talked to the clients and they were very eager to do.



a fundraise kind of thing. That time, I think Canada doubled whatever you give a dollar and it gets doubled. So that really was a big help. So how many times a year do you take your clients to do this kind of community effort stuff? Oh, we are always open. There is always something or the other going on. And they are a very big part of the city of Richmond, because city of Richmond also does.



you know, a call out for help for cleaning or for donation or, you know, helping seniors. So we are... Is that how they sort of the Adopt-A-Street? Was that you mentioned the Adopt-A-Street program? That was totally from Curzon. We explore for the voluntary work what they want to do. And it was a client's goal to do something in the city. So we explored on the website the voluntary work.



and that's how we got involved with that. And I noticed you do, you make sure you guys do a lot of stuff with Henry Yeo? Oh yes, yes. He's the MLA, correct? He is the MLA. So he knows our clients very well, and in fact he has just sent a city of Richmond, has sent individual name, thanking.



for the work they are doing. And that, like recently that's been, you know, helping cut back invasive plants and stuff? Yeah, yeah, they did that. And then helping the new mom with the food, you know, baby food and baby diapers. And they did a lot of work.



Now there's five people, they're obviously, they're individual, big individual personalities. What are some of the things that you come across in the house? Is it just like living with a family? Absolutely. Do they get into arguments and bicker with each other? How did it come for you and me? I'm still, you know. Let's not go there. That's true. But yes, that typical family and you know, sometimes working in the community.



that they all get bound to each other. They know each other so well. You, sometimes if a non-verbal client, if his jacket is given to somebody else, if the staff doesn't know him enough, they are the first one who will check and they'll say, no, that's not his. They are very, very sensitive and they are very attached to each other.



though they have their ups and downs. But you know. Now, you know, one of the issues with people with developmental disabilities, sometimes just behavioral issues, it's, is that, um,



difficult or easy to overcome in this setting? It depends on individual residents. And for all the behavior and all, you know, we have a support system with the help of seniors and mentors and assistant directors. They all, as a team, sit together, help with the GPs and, you know, professionals and sit together, talk, make a plan. So every behavior, we have a protocol



follow and there that's where we come to train our staff to follow the protocols and policy and procedure. That sounds good. Now how long does this particular group of five people occurs on? How long have they been living together? More than 30 years.



But there are some very young clients who have joined them. So the senior is almost 68 years old, and the youngest today, her birthday is, she is 27. So there is a big age gap. But that helps them to be, like, you know, to be bond with each other more. Yeah, that's nice. I mean, it's always nice to have, you know,



inspirational involvement would be kind of nice. So going back to sort of talking about this as a profession, what are some of the things you don't like about caregiving? What's lacking in society in your mind? I often find this occupation being labeled or tagged as caregiver, which I think actually undermines and undervalues this profession.



We ought to be considered as community builders and the life coaches that deserves far greater respect and encouragement from the society. I would also like to see men joining in this profession, like in nursing. Yeah, absolutely. You make an excellent point, community builders, and what was the other one you said?



Life coach, life coach, that was the one. I mean, that's great. I mean, we, you know, we do a lot of recruitment drive and stuff like that. And, you know, I post a lot of stuff on social media that's, you know, that talks about exactly the job you started off with, you know, community support worker. Maybe it's time we start rebranding that as community builder and life coach. Because it's precisely what you do. That really defines it a lot more. And in terms of the men, you're right.



I mean, let's be honest, historically, caregiving is always seems to fall into women, right? But this is a very rewarding job and we look after men, you know? Like, I don't know what the percentage of is it like a 50-50 split between men and women in our group homes? Do we try to do that? I, we don't basically think of doing that 50-50, but we are not close to. So as they come,



I think DDA is very open for male or female. We just want more male to join the sector. But as far as the clients though, like what's... Oh, clients are absolutely like, you know, it's a very mix. I can't say I don't know the numbers 50-50, but we do have women and male. Yeah, of course. And it's important to have, you know, men in the house as...



The female and male together, like you know. For staff, and I mean because they need that guidance and that mentorship regardless. So what would you say to men who are you know thinking about doing something like this, or even haven't even thought about doing something like this? Well I will say welcome, welcome to this real world. We need your presence, strength, and care to make a world a difference.



At DDA, we provide adults service basic training program. It's a very useful resource and training tool to get you started. This program was initiated by our executive director, Alana Hanren. I'm one of the instructor to teach this module. It prepares you to start working, making it easy and comfortably paced with you.



You should have no fears as we are always there to help, guide, and support you. So, men are welcome. Yeah, and like we talked before, there's lots of internal support, training. Absolutely. You know, I mean, you know, not to mention the other benefits of working for DDAs. We have a defined pension. We have a really good benefits program. What is the hardest thing about what you do?



Well, the hard, a constant need for advocacy for clients' rights and respectable inclusion in the communities. For example, it's not easy to access certain public places like beaches and washrooms. We also lack enough available funding to support staff to accompany the clients during overnight hospitalization. When needed. Oh really? Yeah.



Fortunately, through the advocacy work over the years, there has been a lot of improvement in overcoming these barriers. And the stigma has also declined, but it is still ongoing hard struggle in this profession, I think. Now, when you talk about stigmas, I mean, obviously you're out in the community a lot with the clients from Curzon.



Do you experience that stigma in the public? We used to a lot. And now also, it's not gone away. We can see the eyes rolling or somebody getting up and moving from that place. Oh, really? Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. We do see that. But not as much what I used when I came here. So now it is.



little bit better, but it hasn't gone fully. So from 20 years ago, you're seeing an improvement in society's acceptance? Yeah, of course it is. But it's still a long way to go. Yeah, inclusion is, that's an ongoing battle, absolutely. So.



A lot of people in this line of work have a personal connection to developmental disabilities like a lot of people on our board of directors have family or friends who have developmental disabilities. Is this true anywhere in your case?



No, not in my crea- no, no. It's not true in my situation, but there is a significant number of people who are struggling to accept the fact that they are parents of siblings of the special needs person. Yes, there may be people who are joining this field of employment to explore and to learn so that they can care for their loved ones better and meet their needs more effectively.



offer some great training programs and opportunities at work like orientation session, shadow shifts, e-learning, all of which is designed to help staff to learn and grow while they are on their job. And do you find the DDA is very welcoming for for new ideas and



things you can bring to the table and just improve the lives? Absolutely. From the time I have joined, any ideas, anything to describe that what is happening in the neighborhood or to changes, they are always open. So tell me about the job from an emotional point of view. Can it be difficult on you personally?



Well, this profession can be quite stressful at times, emotionally challenging and difficult. So what causes that stress? It's a work. It's not easy to, for example, motivating a client. Every day, motivational that, you know, giving yourself to that particular job is a lot asking. It sounds very simple,



lot of giving. So your clients, I mean, they can be as stubborn as the next person, so getting them to do something is difficult. We don't want them to do something, but helping them to, for example, getting up from the bed. Some of the clients are in that, that they don't want to get up from the bed. Oh, like my teenager. But there is a time for



health, we need to do that, right? So we get trained to help them to motivate and those are all things it requires. And it sounds easy but it's difficult. Well, I can imagine it being difficult because every client is different and they're gonna need different motivations and different ways to get them going. I mean, that said, do you think...



this job certainly requires a kind of person to have that kind of perseverance, to have that kind of patience and motivation in themselves. Absolutely. Needs a lot of patience and you know, but it said that we do encourage our staff members to learn about self care.



importance to educate themselves, available resources and help line. We support staff to be vocal at how do they feel, to share their concerns. We can get them the appropriate help they need.



And that, you know, again, we've got, you know, connections with our benefit programs and their family health plans. That's all in place. We're very, very well supported. When I see pictures of videos of Curzon Home, because you're one of the Group Home managers that sends me tons of content, which I love, I can't help but think...



how fun the job can actually be and where it doesn't actually feel like a job. I look at this and I go, they're all sitting around the dining room table drinking wine and eating Thanksgiving turkey. It's like, this feels like a home, which of course is the goal. But how do you accomplish that feeling from your perspective?



Well, that is our goal, right? To provide continuous support and assistance that fosters respect, independence, inclusion, and a higher quality of life for the individual that we support. My aim.



personally is to help them realize fulfillment in their lives of organizing necessary care resources and encouragement to reach their potential. The other goal is to train team staff so that they can continue to give their best care to our supported individuals as well as themselves. My final question, anything else to add to someone thinking about this line of work? Because it's like I said early on, it's...



This is vital work. This is really important, whether it's, because the last stats, the Canada numbers from last year said 27% of Canadians identify with having a disability, whether that's physical or cognitive or what have you. So having support at any point in our lives is absolutely vital. So what...



What else can you add? What else can you say to someone thinking about getting into this line of work? Yes, I wish more people can experience working with people with autism and other disabilities, to get a firsthand knowledge of what it means to face barriers and challenges, to live every day. Like I said before, this profession is not for everyone, but...



to others who genuinely want to reach out and serve, who are caring and compassionate, I will definitely encourage to choose this line of work. Now, age aside, would you do anything else at this point in your life? Wow.



I haven't thought about it. But I think I will continue to, as long as I can, to be in this field and support my clients. And we are so happy to have you. We're so very proud of the work you do, Ratnam. We have been chatting with DDA group home manager Ratnam Mathur. She has been telling us about her profession as a caregiver here at DDA. I said rather a community builder and life coach. Ratnam, thank you for shedding some light on who you are and what you do. And I know we all love working with you. Thank you.



Thank you, Evan, for this opportunity. You have been listening to DDA's Encouraging Abilities podcast. You can find us pretty much anywhere podcasts are supported, Spotify, Apple podcasts, Podbean, IHOP radio, Google podcasts, and more. See you next time.


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