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Therapeutic Recreation grad connects with older adults in bilingual role at Actionmarguerite

April 30, 2019

Jean-Pierre Kisima, ActionmargueriteBased on the way Jean-Pierre Kisama talks about his job, you can tell it’s his calling.

A recent Red River College graduate, Kisama takes great pride in his work at Actionmarguerite, a home for francophone seniors who require personal and long-term care services.

He’s a therapeutic recreation specialist, so it’s part of his role to engage the residents, and encourage them to take part in the therapeutic programming he creates and plans.

“Some of the residents have dementia, physical disabilities or can’t hear or see very well — they need love and someone beside them who will treat them with dignity and make them feel like they can still do things,” says Kisama.

“My floor has 40 residents, and they all know my name. They are happy, and because of that I am very happy.”

Kisama has always enjoyed working with seniors, which is one of the reasons he decided to enroll in Red River College’s Thereapeutic Recreation Facilitator for Older Adults program.

He and his family came to Winnipeg from the Congo as refugees in 2013. Back home, he served in a similar role as a community support worker.

“The teaching methods were wonderful, and the College itself is well organized,” he says of his experience at RRC. “They made things simple, in the sense that if you are serious about what you want to do, and you work hard, you will succeed in the program.”

Another reason Kisama wanted to take the program was because of the flexible schedule afforded by the continuing education option.

“It worked around my timetable with my four kids and with my wife, so my family wasn’t even affected,” he says. “It made it easier for me to finish and to study hard.”

Kisama is fluent in French, English and Portuguese, which is helpful in his role, since he’s often called on to communicate in French to the residents — but could sometimes pose a challenge while he was in class.

“Whenever I had a problem with English or writing, I got enough support and all my questions were answered positively and taken seriously,” he says.

Jean-Pierre Kisima, ActionmargueriteHe completed his workplace practicum with Actionmarguerite, and secured a term position there once he’d graduated from the program in 2018. Kisama says it was “a miracle” that he was able to land a job in Winnipeg where his bilingualism is an asset.

“I could have lost my French, but I get to practice every day,” he says. “It’s like home.”

Daniel St. Vincent, manager of community programs at Actionmarguerite, works closely with Kisama, and says his life experience, expressive personality and language skills make him a valued member of their team.

“For some of these individuals French is their mother tongue, and speaking it allows [Kisama] to connect with them,” he says.

St. Vincent notes Kisama made an impact when he was able to draw out residents who had typically declined to participate in programming at Actionmarguerite.

“They started saying, ‘No I’m not ready to go back to my room yet!’ That to me is a demonstration of the important work that he does,” says St. Vincent. “This is a remarkable individual.”

Kisama says he used an approach called validation therapy to bond with residents. At the beginning it was hard, but day by day he encouraged their interests, and eventually they began proactively asking about the programs and joining in.

“I showed that I understood and valued them the way they are,” says Kisama.

“They were able to rediscover their sense of self and revisit things they missed, and wanted to be or do.”

Kisama says he enjoys applying what he learned at RRC in his new role role.

“The time I spent at RRC was not for nothing — it was important,” he says. “People love what I’m doing and enjoy it, and I’m very proud of that.”

Profile by Raegan Hedley (Creative Communications, 2016)