Back to her roots

Kelina Tokunai spent her early childhood in Papua New Guinea where the philosophy of “it takes a village to raise a child” is very much the norm.

So the Lifestyle Coordinator at Uniting AgeWell Andrew Kerr Care Community is beyond excited to witness the “magical energy and pure joy” that The Herd Intergenerational Centre, which is under the same roof as the aged care facility, is creating.

Just like a village, the residents and the children spend time together doing art, storytelling, music… their lives being enriched through this interaction.

And Kelina firmly believes that intergenerational bonding is the glue that holds so many families together. She knows that it works. It’s how she was raised.

The theme of Harmony Week, from March 20 – 26, is ‘Everyone Belongs’ and it presents an opportunity for us to celebrate what we practice each and every day. That everyone belongs. Inclusiveness is not only championed by Uniting AgeWell, but enshrined in our blueprint and is one of our five values – the others are kindness, respect, integrity and innovation. A snapshot of our staff shows that 42 per cent were born overseas representing 363 countries and speaking 38 different languages.

Kelina’s UK-born Mum was a nurse who worked for the Red Cross in Papua New Guinea where she met Kelina’s dad, who was a carpenter there. They went on to have four children, with Kelina the youngest.

But when Kelina was five years old, her parents split up. “My Dad had tribal obligations and the responsibilities that came with that meant he was often away from home, and as a result their marriage suffered,” she explains.

Kelina moved to Australia with her Mum and three brothers, and grew up in Frankston surrounded by a big family from her mother’s side – grandparents, cousins and aunts. Their own little village of love.

Kelina is unable to stem the tears as she talks about her late grandparents. “They gave me my identity,” she says simply. “They enveloped my brothers and I with love, respect and kindness. They told us to overcome obstacles in life and to look for the kindness in others. They were wonderful people who saw a person’s heart – never their culture, creed or colour.”

Kelina says she has also learned much from her late father’s Pacific Island background. “It is ingrained in me to look after your elders, and to learn from them. That’s something I am passionate about.”

So it came as no surprise to anyone when at the age of 18, Kelina started working in aged care. She worked as a personal care worker and then as a lifestyle coordinator at many facilities across Melbourne, and four years ago moved to Andrew Kerr Care Community. It's on the Mornington Peninsula, where she lives with her 24-year old daughter who she describes as “the air that I breathe.”

Now, with 30 years’ of aged care under her belt, Kelina is studying a Bachelor of Health Science and Leisure for one reason only. “To upskill my knowledge and provide the best quality of life that I am capable of doing for the residents.”

Kelina says of all the aged care facilities she has worked in, Uniting AgeWell is hands-down the best. And she says the organisation’s values of kindness, respect, integrity, innovation and inclusion mirror her own.

“I have always been supported by the organisation to be the best that I can,” she says. “It’s pretty wonderful to work with an organisation that not only appreciates me but champions me.”

It’s wonderful to have a village of support – not only at home, but in the workforce.

Learn more about Harmony Week