These are some of the words of personal assistants with Irish Wheelchair Association. They are among our 1,500 home support workers at the frontline who haven't stopped reaching people across Ireland throughout the pandemic
“When I was young my mother was sick, so I cared for her 24/7,” says Esther Eyong, speaking about her childhood in Cameroon. Esther now works as a personal assistant based in Kilkenny.
“From there I enjoy using my strength and ability to be around people and help them. Being around my mother has inspired me to help other people,” she says.
Irish Wheelchair Association’s frontline workers have worked tirelessly over the past year. Their commitment comes from the heart and this has helped them to keep going during the challenges and worrying time we are all in.
Ken Gallagher is a personal assistant in west Dublin: “At the start it was very stressful with checkpoints and going into homes and seeing how concerned the people with support were. But you just get into it,” he says.
According to Esther. “Covid has been scary for our clients and it is scary for me too. But what can you do? You just have to cope as best you can.”
Justyna Sopla, who also works in Kilkenny, says the people she works with really miss the company of friends and family. “People want to talk about their families, they miss their daughters, they miss that someone.
There is so much more that they want to talk about,” she says. “Now people are so much more honest and open and sharing their feelings. Maybe it’s because I love talking so much, but I love it and it is what people need right now.”
For Ken it was very important, especially at the start, to keep an eye on people who might be struggling with the isolation brought by lockdown. “We had to watch out for people who were feeling down. People were literally locked in their homes. I have a couple who haven’t set foot outside their front door in a year,” he says, highlighting the stress people are still under.
Ken, Justyna and Esther have also had their own struggles over the year trying to juggle frontline work alongside keeping their own families safe. Ken hasn’t seen his own mother in over six months. Esther and her family have become used to working during the pandemic, but it was an adjustment at the start.
Likewise, Justyna says it took her children a while to get used to everything. “When I get home I have to change and shower before I can go to my family. So that is hard for the kids. As soon as they see me, they want me, ‘Oh Mama look at this… Mama can we do that’ but I have to stop them straight away, so no hugs until I am changed,” she says.
Throughout the past year humor, humanity and faith have been the pillars that have supported Esther, Justyna and Ken in the work they do.
Ken has even had to brush up on his football knowledge. “When I go to some houses a few of the lads I visit are football fanatics. Now I know nothing about football, I never have. But I’ve learned more about football because of this COVID; getting involved in chats with the guys…we are all making that extra effort to keep people going and keep them sane.” he says.
Esther has a strong work ethic and is passionate about it,
“If you can’t do your best then don’t go to work. If you are going to work, then you need to do your best and do what you can do.”
Justyna has a big heart tries to use her time to connect with people and encourage them through these tough times. “In general most of my clients are finding it pretty hard. Sometimes I will really try to distract people, make them laugh and maybe nothing will change for them, but I have to try,” she says.
Irish Wheelchair Association provides a HSE-funded assisted living service for people of all ages, alongside a private home support service. Find out more about our assisted living service.