Stories of carers on display in Ferntree Gully

It was a special moment for the carers and team at CHAOS. Picture: Tanya Faulkner

By Tanya Faulkner

The Community Houses of the Outer Eastern Suburbs (CHAOS) have partnered with the Ferntree Gully Library to share the story of carers in the community.

CHAOS project worker Leonie Scott said the idea came from a conversation at an art workshop, and they never looked back.

“We had a group of our unpaid carers doing an art workshop at Koonara Community House, and the conversation started there.

“One of the women said she feels like carers are so unseen, no one sees what they do, and she felt undervalued and hopeless.

“That’s where the idea came from to share their story with an art exhibition,” she said.

CHAOS were the recipients of state government funding in 2021 for their Linking Carers into Vocational Opportunities project, to help carers explore pathways into study and training for care volunteering or paid work, helping build confidence and skills for those in the industry.

The Sea Star exhibition grew into a sub-project of the Linking Carers project with CHAOS, that came out of that art workshop.

The idea with the exhibition, created by the cares themselves, was to help give carers in the Hills more visibility in the community and to share the stories of what they do.

Amongst the discussions at Koonara Community House, came the idea of the sea star story, which sparked the inspiration of the exhibition.

The sea star story tells the tale of the boy throwing stars back into the ocean, showing that even the smallest act of kindness can make a difference to at least one person, which is what the carers wanted to share in their exhibition.

Ms Scott said the story resonated with the carers in the group.

“The story resonated with them, and they related to the story, making a difference to the individuals they care for in their roles.

“The idea kind of snowballed from there, and the carers wanted to talk about how their roles make a difference to their loved ones,” she said.

Ms Scott said these art workshops encourage reflection and growth amongst the carers in their network.

“Our carers are invited to come along, relax and converse with each other, and to have a think about their roles,” she said.

Through the Linking Carers project, where CHAOS works to train and support the carers to go out in the community, the carers learnt the essential skills needed to host the exhibition on their own, with guidance of Ms Scott and CHAOS project leader Leanne Fitzgerald.

Ms Scott said the program has seen several women, and some men, coming through and creating their own pathways, learning lots of skills along the way – particularly through the Sea Stars project.

“They’ve learned skills like online systems for event planning, created the artworks that are now on display, and are now going out into the community to facilitate workshops and build their confidence as carers in the community,” she said.

There are now approximately 100 sea stars on display at the Ferntree Gully Library, sharing the stories and experiences of local carers in the community.

It comes at the start of Carers Week in the community, celebrating locals around the Hills in carer roles.

Ms Fitzgerald said this project is a perfect example of adult learning, and community learning and action.

“These carers have had the opportunity to learn new skills through a project they developed themselves.

“They’ve completely put this event together by themselves, and we are just so proud of them,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said many of their carers are ready for “what next?”.

“Whether it’s employment in the community sector or moving into further training, our carers have been exceptional in this project and are ready for their next steps,” she said.

CHAOS held an opening ceremony on Monday 16 October to introduce the exhibition to the carers and several locals of Ferntree Gully.

It was a warm and emotional gathering, with a few tears shed, and new connections made amongst the group.

Ms Scott said with this week being Carers week it’s important to celebrate those in the community who dedicate their time to caring for others, and encourages locals to come down and experience the exhibition for themselves.

“The project aims to make carers more visible and bring them together to celebrate their roles, and celebrate what Linking Carers has been able to achieve in training these carers.

“They are very excited about the exhibition, it’s given them a purpose, and a chance to step away from their role for a moment and have that sense of themself again.

“Carers often lose their sense of self in their role, when they dedicate so much time to the people they care for, so it’s good for them to have taken some time for themselves.

“More often than not they put their care recipients before themselves, this is their time to celebrate themselves,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald agreed, and said it was the carers who have really driven this project and made it happen.

The display will remain at Ferntree Gully Library until 28 October.