Students answer call of the elderly

Top News | Mandy Zheng 27 Oct 2020

With most people stuck at home during the pandemic, a group of high school students have formed unlikely friendships with the elderly living alone via a phone call project.

One of them is Joyce Lee Muk-ha, 19, who could not go on her long-awaited graduation trip this summer due to travel restrictions. Instead, she started a different journey of friendship with 78-year-old Chung.

"My family calls me ngau nui [cow girl]. The first time I met Uncle Chung, he told me his nickname was ngau jai [cow boy]. What a coincidence!" she said.

The two have been talking on the phone once a week since June, when they joined a project by Ma On Shan Neighborhood Elderly Centre, in which student volunteers regularly ring up seniors to chat.

The project, proposed by Lee, recruited seven students aged 16 to 19, who each served two elderly after training.

The idea came to Lee in March, after a call with an aunt. "I realized just talking like that made both of us very happy," Lee said.

"I had nothing to do at home. I wanted to chat with someone who needed a chat too, and luckily I found Uncle Chung."

Chung, a blind retiree, has been living alone for over a decade. He hardly goes out now as the social workers helping him walk halted the service due to Covid-19.

But over the hour-long weekly calls, Chung let his guard down as he found Lee to be "really smart and thoughtful.

"I feel happy just talking to her as I won't think about other things. She's like a granddaughter," he said.

But for Chung, certain topics are off limits, including his estranged relationships with his own children.

"Sometimes I think: I've worked hard my entire life, now look at where I end up? These things I won't tell Joyce, as I don't want to scare a little girl."

Still, Lee says she has learned a lot from Chung, and plans to keep calling him after leaving Hong Kong for university in December.

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