Charmaine has been caring for those around her for most of her adult life. She is one of 160 volunteers at SMRC making a difference to the community.
Like many people in Sri Lanka, her responsibilities to family not only included her husband and four children, but also her in-laws and husband’s grandparents. In addition, Charmaine became a primary carer for her husband’s grandmother.
When she migrated to Australia in 2008, she was caring for her father who was part of SMRC’s Palliative Care Program.
“When COVID came, they couldn’t pay me because I [had] just started. So I stayed home. When I stayed home, I thought I can do something instead of staying home. And I called SMRC”, she says.
Charmaine soon commenced volunteering in the Palliative Care Program. “I’m happy because I had this experience already being with my husband’s grandma and my dad. I talked to [clients] over the phone and they were so nice. You know, the clients I got were very, very nice. They were just looking forward to my call”, she says. This experience was monumental to her getting involved in more volunteer visiting programs at SMRC. “I told my coordinators, if you have any more, I’m happy to do it.” Even through the isolation and difficulties of COVID and not being able to visit the clients Charmaine kept connected with regular phone calls.
Charmaine has always liked to help others and knows that the simple act of connection can make a huge difference. “I’ve always been a people person. I like to help the people around me, the neighbours. Whatever help they need”, she says. Her empathetic natures shines through when talking about her clients. “I have a 90-year-old [client]. I speak Sri Lankan languages as well so when I speak to her I speak her own language, she’s very happy. She loves to talk and have a bit of a social life because here it’s not at all like how she lived back at home.” Reminiscing about their shared experiences in Sri Lanka not only allows them to deepen their connection, but she’s confident it brings some light to her client’s day.
Having an appreciation for different cultures and upbringings, Charmaine says, is key to what she’s learnt from many years of volunteering. “When we were raised up, we were only raised up in our own culture, we saw only that, but when we come here, we see, every culture has their values, you know, from where they come from. And at the end of the day, you all feel the same, you all need the same things in life,”, she says.
When asked what she would say to people considering volunteering, she contends that love and patience, above all else, is important to us all. “The joy that you get from just talking to them and socialising, makes a big difference. And we feel good that they are happy in our presence. Volunteers can learn how the other person is and you can get to know each other. Then slowly you can make the journey with them. Have patience and love and listen to what they have to say.”
Charmaine is well-known in the SMRC community, and her positive presence is felt everywhere. “Here, in SMRC… I feel at home.” She reminds us that a little love, patience and understanding can go a long way.