“The challenges I faced while caring for my grandfather motivated me to persevere and attain a qualification at the Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC),” says Alice Houtoro Tara, an APTC alumna and one of four women from the Solomon Islands who commenced work in Australia’s aged care sector under the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alice and her colleagues remain in Australia, working on a 3-year visa.
Alice, 25, from Small Malaita, Solomon Islands, undertook a Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing, Home and Community) (CHC33015) course at APTC in Fiji in 2019 and graduated in February 2020.
Prior to this, Alice completed a Diploma in Community Based Rehabilitation at the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) in 2018.
The Pacific Labour Facility (PLF), in partnership with the Solomon Islands Government, facilitated Alice’s employment in Australia. She is currently one of the first four aged care workers from the Solomon Islands working in Australia.
The PLS provides an opportunity for Pacific Island citizens to earn an income, save money and send income home, allowing them to financially support their community and plan for the future.
Alice is encouraging young women and youth in the Solomon Islands to pursue further education as a way of strengthening skills gained from looking after members of their families and the wider community.
“This field is very important, and I am urging other women and youth to build their passion in the Individual Support course,” Alice said.
“The pace of population ageing around the world is increasing dramatically, and our local communities are no different. This means we need to have sufficient skilled people. This is a real need in the Solomon Islands. I know that our family members and young people have been busy with social activities and jobs, so our old people are alone in our homes.”
Alice described her APTC learning experience as fruitful and interesting, which complemented her learning at SINU. The knowledge and skills gained grew her passion and interest to work with elderly people both in the Solomon Islands and abroad.
“I count myself fortunate to have studied Individual Support in Fiji under the APTC program. It has helped build up my existing knowledge and skills in this field.”
Alice said a particular topic that caught her attention during the course was dementia. Dementia is a syndrome involving deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities. Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of ageing.
Recalling her experience as a caregiver for her 105-year-old grandfather who had dementia, Alice said this ignited her passion for the APTC course.
She explained that her grandfather experienced issues such as the decline in memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking skills, and it affected his ability to perform everyday activities. It was in her studies with APTC that she came to recognise these as signs of dementia.
She said the important thing is, “We will experience that as old people get older, there will be a few changes with their appearance and attitude, prompting a need for closer attention”.
“For example, my grandfather did not recognise his doctors, daughters and sons, and even asked repeated questions. For us Solomon Islanders, we tend to see these behaviours or signs as mental illness, but they are not”.
“Hence, the Individual Support course is significant to provide care for parents, manage issues of loneliness and isolation. Having a dedicated caregiver like me will support the wellbeing of the elderly in our various communities,” she added.
Alice recognises that the opportunity to work in Australia under the PLS is crucial to widening her skills and experiences in order to support her family and community.
“As an ambassador of the Solomon Islands in my area of work, I am looking forward to performing to the best of my ability. The idea is to pave a positive pathway for others aspiring to join the scheme in the future. This is a win-win situation for my family and my country,” Alice said.
As Australia’s flagship TVET program, APTC has trained over 15,000 Pacific women and men, including more than 1,100 men and 860 women in the Solomon Islands, since its commencement in 2007.