Kito, 47, came to England from Laos in South East Asia as a teenager and, after finishing his studies, qualified as a chef. He later married and had a son who’s now 6 years old. His son is autistic and Kito is his full time carer. They have an amazing bond; Kito spends a lot of time helping his son to improve his communication skills and he’s seen a real improvement in the past year.
With his son now at school, Kito decided he wanted to get out and meet people and when he came to a Carers Week event at St Joseph’s he picked up a leaflet about the Compassionate Neighbours project. Compassionate Neighbours is a befriending project run by St Joseph’s Hospice across East London that matches a volunteer with someone in their community who is socially isolated or in the last years of life. They visit them in their homes once a week and offer social and emotional support and, most importantly, friendship.
Kito signed up to the training course but admits that for the first four weeks he didn’t say anything; he felt shy and worried he’d say something silly. But in Week 5 he suddenly found new confidence, something clicked. By the end of 8 weeks, he felt the group were like family and they all now keep in touch.
He was matched with Joseph, a 69-year-old man who has lived with Parkinson’s Disease for around 20 years. Joseph attends Day Hospice and Neuro Group at St Joseph’s and apart from carers coming to see him and friends visiting occasionally, he rarely has company.
Kito and Joseph met up twice at the hospice and decided they liked each other. Kito visits Joseph every week, but he also pops in if he’s shopping nearby, taking him his favourite lemonade drink.
It’s fair to say that Kito and Joseph have become firm friends. They talk about everything and anything from politics and news to films and sport. Joseph likes a bit of a joke too; when Kito makes him a coffee he’ll say that it’s disgusting, but he says it with a little smile and a twinkle in his eye. He really looks forward to Kito’s visits and he dresses smartly every Friday when he knows he’s coming. When Kito pops round as a surprise Joseph often says “I’m not ready, I’ve got my pyjamas on”, but he’s always really pleased to see him.
Joseph says, “The care I get at St Joseph’s Hospice is exceptional and when they asked me if I wanted a Compassionate Neighbour I thought ‘why not?’ I’d say to anyone thinking about it go ahead, it’s a great idea. Kito is really good fun, I really look forward to seeing him. He tells me stories that make me laugh and we talk about everything. I hope he will always be my friend and he’s promised to cook something for me one day.”
Kito says that becoming a Compassionate Neighbour has changed his life too. “I have so much confidence now. I have learnt to really listen to people and let them do the talking. I really think that the Compassionate Neighbours training has helped my relationship with my son too; he’s come on really well and I’ve learnt that patience really pays off. With my new found confidence, I’m planning to do some cookery teaching; sushi is my speciality, and I already have some classes lined up!
“Both Joseph and my son are definitely happier than before. I put that down to my Compassionate Neighbours training. It’s really changed me for the better.”