It’s Young Carers Awareness Day today (25th January), recognising the hundreds of thousands of inspirational and courageous young carers across the UK.
Sixteen-year-old Zak is studying Early Years Education at the College alongside caring for his elderly grandmother who suffers from type 2 diabetes and dementia.
Growing up as a child Zak remembers spending much of his time with his grandmother (Noor), so a close bond was formed at a very early age. When she became ill in 2012 when Zak was just 11, he started sharing the responsibility of caring for her with his mum, in his family home in Carrington.
Zak helps with a number of daily tasks, including washing and dressing his grandmother, ensuring she takes the correct medication at the right time each day, and he also provides the much needed emotional support that she regularly needs as part of her condition.
He explains: “Because my granny and I have such a good relationship, caring for her needs was something that came naturally to me, and as time has gone on and she has gotten older and become more poorly, the situation now feels like the norm.
“I enjoy my course at College and I’m pretty good at juggling my responsibilities with my studies. It’s only when I have extra homework or leading up to exams that it can be stressful; these are the times I stop and realise how much I’ve got to do.”
Noor turns 93 in April and has been in the final stages of dementia for the past 4 years. Zak says: “When you’re sitting next to my granny you would never even know she’s ill. She’s very up and down, one minute she’s completely herself and then the next, it’s like she reverts back to being a child, and often she only responds and accepts help from me. It is a big responsibility but I don’t see it like that, I want to be there for her and I’m glad I can be.”
About four months ago, Zak received the devastating news that his grandmother’s condition was worsening and that she may only have a few months left to live. Zak says: “My granny is such a strong lady and I’ve learnt not to pay too much attention to what the doctors say. I want to stay positive for her because I don’t want her to see that I’m down or sad. I want to keep the light on and keep the hope going. In fact, later this week, I’m going to buy her some budgies as I remember when I was younger, before she got dementia, she owned a parrot which she loved. I’m hoping this will bring back some nice memories for her.”
Zak has always wanted to become a teacher, and this College course is his first stepping stone to achieving this. He plans to eventually progress to university to study a leadership degree and one day he would like to become the head teacher of a primary school.
“My course great. It’s good to have some time out with other people my age. I think my course helps me to deal with certain situations at home because I learn loads about children and their behaviours and I can relate to this with my granny’s condition.
“I think being a young carer will make me a stronger person and it makes me even more determined to reach my goal of going to uni and pursuing a career in teaching.
“My granny is such a wonderful person and she’s so strong, she’s lived for the past 30 years with just one kidney! I think her strength runs in the family genes because my great grandmother lived until she was 102! I really look up to my granny and I feel privileged to be her grandson and that I’m able to support her.”
Nottingham College Learner Achievement Team Leader, Charlotte Wilson, said: “We have close to 40,000 students at the College and therefore Zak’s situation isn’t an isolated one. Our students have a variety of backgrounds and personal circumstances and that’s why it is vital that we have a dedicated team of trained staff to support them.
“Our Learner Achievement Coaches are on hand to create a safe environment where students from all walks of life can communicate their fears, issues and anxieties without judgement, but with a friendly face and a listening ear. They encourage students to gain independence and resilience by using one-to-one strategies bespoke to the student’s personal needs, which in turn help them to overcome their challenges and reach their potential.
“Zak is a real inspiration. He’s so hard working and has such a positive outlook on life. His caring nature shines through in the classroom and he takes the challenges he faces in his personal life in his stride. He’s a fantastic role model, and I’m so pleased that days like today help to raise awareness about young carers and the incredible work they do.”