Tales help young and old

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Tangara student Naomi Rodrigues interviews Arcare Glenhaven resident Albert McEvoy, 86. PHOTO: Rachel Aquilina

Phoebe Farag, 14, says she is “learning so much” about how different life was for older generations and how much she has taken for granted.

The Year 9 student of Tangara School for Girls at Cherrybrook with several of her classmates visits aged care residents of Arcare Glenhaven each week as part of a memoir-writing program called ‘Write of Passage’.

“They worked so hard when they were children. I feel like we get it so easy now,” she says.

Each student is partnered with a resident to create the older person’s memoir, collecting their tales using new voice-to-text technology by company Bookform.

At the end of October, the residents and their families will be presented with their memoir book and audio recordings of their stories.

Paul Oon, 82, says he was finding the experience “very enjoyable”.

Paul Oon, 82, shares a joke with Tangara student Phoebe Farag. PHOTO: Rachel Acquilina

“I think my children already know my life story already, but there are a few things they wouldn’t know.”

Rachel Aquilina, community marketing officer at Arcare, says it is exciting to see how engaged the students are with the residents’ life stories.

“It gives the residents a great sense of purpose and fulfilment.

“Both groups are getting so much out of it.”

A similar program, titled the Biography Service, runs at St Vincent’s Hospital’s Sacred Heart Community Palliative Care based in Darlinghurst.

It is a “lovely example of how a volunteer makes a difference” to an elderly person who is vulnerable to becoming lonely and demoralised, says Professor David Kissane, chair of Palliative Medicine Research at Notre Dame University and St Vincent’s.

Prof David Kissane. PHOTO: Supplied

The Catholic Church is “very much interested in care of the elderly, palliative care, and care of the dying” he says.

“[Such care] offers a real alternative to what people see is a space for medically-assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

St Vincent’s biography service is “a beautiful program because community volunteers in the past have sometimes found it a little hard to know what to say to people when they go to them for companionship”, he says.

“This gives them a structure, where they seek to take the story of a persons’ life, their accomplishments and challenges, and understand their key influences so that his or her true value is brought to the fore.

“Creating a legacy document like this helps people to feel very good about the life that they’ve lived.

“We know through existential theory that the more life satisfaction there is the easier it becomes for a person to accept when their body becomes frail and they get close to their dying.

“So the work of a biographer is really a very wonderful, charitable work.”

For information on St Vincent’s biography service email [email protected] or call 8382 9559.