Members Gallery

These pages are a collection of stories from the Writer's Group at Box Hill U3A.

The Girl from Croatia.

Such a pleasant and interesting day, when the girl, Ivona, came from RMIT to interview me about aged care. Delightfully gentle, aged nineteen, she'd come from Croatia, with her parents when she was five. Their house had been burnt to the ground in the war with Serbia and her father, a returned prisoner of war, weighed just thirty kilograms, with his health greatly impaired.

They lived in one room in Reservoir, with an aunt, who had come here some years earlier. It was not a happy situation, but they endured. Her mother had a PhD from Croatia, which was not recognised, so she did a poorly paid job until she was able to complete two years at university to re-establish her qualifications. The mother was their only support until the father's health improved and he became a transport driver. He is far from well, but they are a happy family, with two more children, aged twelve and fifteen. They have recently been able to buy their own home and own a car.

I was horrified at the tales of her years in the state school in the area. With no English whatever, she was terrified, a situation greatly exacerbated by the bullying that went on. Unable to plead her cause, the teachers were less than helpful. The stress caused her to lose all her hair. Pushed from playground equipment, her head was split open. Only after her arm was broken was any attention given to her plight. When she commenced high school, life became happier. She was able to graduate with honours, especially in English and so pleased to be able to study Journalism where she would be able to make a mark in the world, make it a better place. She feels that her hard times have not damaged her, only equipped her more ably to deal with life.

I was somewhat apprehensive when she rang, in her cultured voice, asking to interview me on the topic of aged care. With my strong views, I thought I might open my big mouth and get myself into trouble. I feel the service is vital for keeping people out of nursing home and able to stay in their own homes. The disruption, the distress and the ridiculous cost, (selling your home to cover the cost of a room with ensuite) is something surely to be avoided. But there is need for so much improvement; it is far from satisfactory and so much money is being poured into it, not only by the care services, but by all the local councils. I need not have worried.

She came wanting to know exactly what I thought. She has taken up this project because the government is providing so much money, but she wonders, is it being spent to the best advantage? The helpers are fine caring people, but they come from so many different cultures and the help they give is not always efficient by our standards. One of my helpers washed up under the running hot water tap, with a squeeze of detergent on to each article she washed. Half a bottle of detergent disappeared! Perhaps lack of training/knowledge is one problem. Once, the schools taught home economics. Now we get, 'spray and wipe' shown us on the TV ads. and we learn how to put detergent into a toilet. My thought was to make DVD's of the different tasks, if possible without involving language. These could be done in the TAFE colleges, where films are being made, as part of their course, so saving cost. She jumped at that "I will do it." She said.

Ivona confided, at the end of our meeting, that she has no intention of becoming a journalist. She wants to have a family and a happy life. Journalists need to be on call twenty four hours a day and the stress is great. The training has been wonderfully broad and given her a fine background to become a teacher, where she there hopes to do her bit for the world.

Mim Egan