Following his heart

Meet Calton Ngwenya, who grew up in Zimbabwe and loves soccer and wildlife, is passionate about Australia, speaks with a clipped English accent thanks to an old-school British Cambridge education system in Zimbabwe, and has a Romanian wife. Oh, and he speaks Shona and a bit of Romanian as well.

Harmony Week is pretty much like every week in Calton’s life. Both at home and in his role as Residential Services Manager (RSM) at Uniting AgeWell Strathdon Community in Forest Hill.

“Multi-culturalism is a wonderful thing,” he says. “It’s a richly woven tapestry of cultures that needs to be celebrated. Together we are a richer society.”

And Calton is proud to belong to an organisation that not only embraces multi-culturalism but has inclusiveness as one of its five core values. A snapshot of Uniting AgeWell’s staff shows that 42 per cent were born overseas representing 363 countries and speaking 38 different languages.

“Uniting AgeWell’s values reflect my own. They hire the best person for the job, regardless of their cultural background, age or gender. And then they mentor and champion them to be the best that they can.” Then in his refreshingly candid style, he laughs, “Besides, if I wasn’t happy, I wouldn’t have stuck around so long.”

His roots

Family means the world to Carlton.

“In African cultures, older people are revered and looked up to for their wisdom,” explains Calton. “The adage that ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is so true! And that village is made up of grandparents who are often the backbone of families. They help us when we are kids, so it’s our turn to help them when they grow older.”

So Calton counted it as a privilege to be able to help look after his grandmother who moved into their family home when her diabetes and dementia meant she was unable to take care of herself anymore.

“Aged care facilities weren’t a thing back then. Families just looked after their older loved ones. My gran died at home, and while nursing her was exhausting, it was also incredibly special.”

In 2001, Calton arrived in Australia on a study visa to join his brother – who also still lives in Melbourne. Their sister is in Johannesburg in South Africa.

Following his heart

Calton has always followed his passion – in his career and in his personal life.

He arrived in Melbourne in April of 2001, met Daniela in September of 2001 and they were married six months later. “She was the right person, so why wait?” he says. And 20 years and two sons later, 40-year-old Calton still believes this was the best decision he’s ever made.

Both Calton and Daniela have a hugely strong work ethic. “I’ve told my sons I don’t mind what career path they follow, or what trade they do, but they need to give it their all to be the very best they can be. Calton is also a deeply-committed Christian and is appreciative of the huge amount of support that the chaplains provide to those of all faiths, beliefs and spiritualties at Uniting AgeWell sites.

Getting into aged care

When Calton first arrived in Australia he had enrolled to study IT, which he disliked. He took time out to check out his options and picked up some casual work at a factory. There were jobs going for personal carers in aged care, so he did his Cert III and started work.

Calton completed his Division 2 in Nursing in 2007 while working in aged care as a Personal Carer. In 2009 he completed Cert III in Patient Transport at Monash University and worked for Paramedic Services Victoria, as a Patient Transport Officer. Soon after that he completed a Diploma in Paramedical Science at Victoria University and started working as an ambulance attendant. Next up he did a Bachelor of Nursing Practice at Monash University and worked for a while in acute emergency and surgical care.

But memories of his grandmother and the affinity he feels for older people tugged at his heart. He took on a casual nursing position at an aged care facility in addition to his job, and when a full time nursing position in the facility opened up, he took it.

And from there his pathway towards leadership has been sure and steady. He went from acting clinical care coordinator to manager at a Boronia aged care facility, before taking up the role as Senior Care Manager at Strathdon in 2018. He was acting RSM at the end of 2019 and took over the role permanently in January 2020.

He is among a handful of staff from across the organisation selected to participate in a leadership course.

“Aged care is challenging, but it is also rewarding. I see it not as end-of-life, but a celebration of life. Growing old is a privilege denied to so many, so being in aged care itself, is an absolute blessing.”

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