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‘We are grateful we can help the community,’ say Greek Australian essential workers

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By Argyro Vourdoumpa and Andriana Simos

Every day since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, a number of people have been risking their lives for the greater good. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, educators, customer-service officers, cleaners, truck drivers—the list goes on.

Despite most of us having to stay at home, they continue doing their jobs. The government calls them “essential workers.” We call them our community’s superheroes.

How do they keep up and what motivates them to keep helping the community during these trying times?

Tom Parmakellis, Cosmetic & Family Physician, Sydney:

Q: How do you keep up and how do you cope with the current situation?

A: My business has changed dramatically in the last 2 weeks. I ceased all medical procedures in my medical practice, which resulted in an 80% drop in revenue. It was the right thing to do as it was too risky for our patients.

I changed to Telehealth consultations and all patients are being consulted via video conferencing or telephone for older patients who don’t have or use these technologies.

I have created a drive thru influenza immunisation clinic and have immunised 250 patients in 4 days. The demand has been overwhelming, as patients are frightened and appreciate having their flu vaccine in the safety of their own car.

We have rearranged our 4 staff members hours and duties to keep them all in a job despite the 80% drop in our revenue. I have applied for Job Keeper support for all our staff as we will need this to keep them all in a job and help them meet their financial obligations. I have a moral obligation to my patients and staff to keep my business alive.

We have so far achieved this and are grateful to be able to continue helping our community and are eternally grateful that we still have jobs, which many in Australia and the world no longer have. In two words I have been “very busy” making things work. We cope by practicing gratitude.

Q. What is your message to the wider community?

A: Be kind to one another. Help those who are less fortunate. Keep safe by following the social distancing advice and only go out if you really have to.

Only by following this advice will we reduce the number of Covid -19 cases and help save lives. One thing I can guarantee is that this will pass and I hope we may learn to appreciate life and be grateful for what we do have.

Effie Caramalis, Bank of Sydney Branch Operations Manager, Oakleigh Branch, Melbourne:

Q: How do you keep up and how do you cope with the current situation?

A: As these are unprecedented times one has to adapt their way of life according to the Government guidelines for our health, safety and for the benefit of the wider community. I am fortunate that my workplace was very quick in responding to the COVID 19 situation and implemented new procedures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our staff and our customers. 

I am lucky to be part of a terrific team who support and take care of each other which keeps our spirits high and mental wellbeing healthy. I do not find it difficult to cope, as I myself, feel safe and protected in my workplace and at home.  

Q: What is your message to the wider community?

A: To remember that we are all in this together, so be patient, kind and understanding with each other and please ensure that you are sleeping, eating well and exercising. Also do not stress unnecessarily and to take one day at a time, this will pass and we will all be better for it.

Bill Papas, Barber, Sydney:

Q: How do you keep up and how do you cope with the current situation?

A: For the last two weeks my shop, Bill’s Barber Shop in Willoughby, has been shut down due to the coronavirus. It was hard at first, but we did it to ensure our customers were safe. We pride ourselves in hygiene and cleanliness.

However, a few weeks into our closure, I was inundated with calls from customers so we decided to re-open. I was hesitant at first, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve decided to stick to 30-minute appointments only. This gives me the time I need to clean all the equipment and barber chairs before my next customer. We restructured the business completely to accommodate our valued customers and so far, it’s worked really well. I don’t regret re-opening despite all the uncertainty.

Q: What is your message to the wider community?

A: I think it’s important to follow the protocols set by the government regarding hygiene procedures. We wear gloves and masks when cutting the hair of our customers and we would love the same respect from them. It just ensures that everyone is at ease and safe.

Penny Costa, Childcare worker, St Stephanos Child Care Centre, Hurlstone Park, Sydney:

Q: How do you keep up and how do you cope with the current situation?

A: I have surprised myself as I’m usually an anxious person. I feel I’m coping really well considering the circumstances and I try to work as I normally would.

I have always been aware of the importance of good hygiene practices especially in a child care setting. An old TAFE teacher told me once to always be aware of health and hygiene when you work in close contact with children and adults like they all have an infectious disease. This has stayed with me throughout my 35 year childcare career. I constantly wash my hands and wear gloves when needed. I try to be supportive to other staff and vice versa as we are all in this together. We need each other’s reassurance to stay positive and stable for the young children in our care as they are our number one priority.

We also have a special relationship with our parents as many have been coming to our centre for many years with their children. We had different responses from our parents so all we could do was support them in any difficult decision they had to make.

Health and safety is the centre’s main priority to protect the children and educators. Our Health and Hygiene policy was updated and a risk assessment was put in place. Staff have been proactive putting hygiene measures in place to minimise risks. Staff have constantly been sanitising and using natural cleaning products to disinfect toys, wipe down surfaces, door knobs, rails and cleaning bathrooms throughout the day. As staff enter the centre they wash their hands.

Parents and children have hand sanitiser on the sign-in table. Parents do not enter the children’s playroom due to social distance. Parents open the gate where the child enters and is greeted and have their forehead temperatures taken. Staff and children’s temperatures are also monitored throughout the day and unwell children and staff, with temperatures towards 38 degrees, get sent home. Activities such as sand pit and play dough are not available during this time due to cross contamination.

I am also always trying to keep the children happy as some are missing their friends. They have had to adjust to a room structure change as we have gone from three rooms to one room, with a family grouping of approximately 10 children per day with 4 staff. I have also introduced the coronavirus into our program by reading stories, learning new songs about hygiene, engaging children in fun craft and science experiments on germs. All this helps the children to understand a little about what is currently going on in our world and why their normal life and routine is changing for the time being. I also regularly engage the children in yoga and breathing meditation where they have the opportunity to release any negative feelings they may have.

I’m not enjoying the quietness of the centre as I’m used to the centre with more children and more staff. I miss the three staff that decided they wanted to be in their own home during the crisis due to their own health issues. I miss working closely with the pre-schoolers, getting them ready for big school. I miss the children’s laughter and cries and their loud screams of happiness while playing in the play ground. Most of all, I miss the fast pace and stress that I thrive on throughout the day.

Q: What is your message to the wider community?

A: It is important for us educators to stay connected to our children and families while maintaining our strong community feeling with other early childhood services. The lack of recognition saddens me and educators need to be valued and acknowledged in what we do as we constantly fight for recognition. At the moment during this crisis, telling someone they’re doing a good job is just not good enough. Maybe when the crisis is over the government needs to change and recognise how much educators are worth. Yes, we are educators not babysitters and we are important essential workers that keep the economy going.

I also want to add that I hope the community does the right thing, stays home and only goes out if it’s essential. Just have the importance of washing hands on your minds.

Fay Boufidou, Cleaning Business Operator, Melbourne:

Q: How do you keep up and how do you cope with the current situation?

A: We try to protect ourselves and our customers as much as we can. We take precautions like wearing masks, gloves, practicing social distancing and maintaining good hygiene. Our work has decreased a lot, as most people are staying at home and some of them are struggling financially, so they have to minimise their expenses. However, we still have to keep on serving people with disabilities, the elderly and clinics etc.

Of course it’s hard and stressful to work in such difficult times, but we try to continue providing our services to people who need our help.

Q: What is your message to the wider community?

A: Stay home and stay safe! Practice social distancing, good hand hygiene, limit your movements and stay home as much as possible. We are all a part of this and we need to adhere to the advice of the authorities to keep ourselves safe and healthy. 

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