No generation gap in this friendship

By, Tessa Johnstone

An 11-year-old and a Dutch-speaking elderly woman struck up an unlikely friendship after Lakeview School pupils started volunteering at Kandahar House.

Alatana Whanau has been named a "Community 1st" finalist in Wellington region's Pride Awards, aimed at recognising young people's success, for her volunteer work.

Alatana and a few other pupils have regularly visited Kandahar residents this year, reading and talking to them.

Saartje Vermeer, originally from Holland, has lived in the dementia unit for a number of years and reverted to her native tongue, rarely speaking English - but she and Alatana have a rapport.

"The first time I went to see her I didn't understand her, said Alatana. "But I kept reading to her, and every week she started to hear my English and she started to copy too."

Alatana said the school organised the students' visits and several had kept going, realising family may be unable to.

Last term, with Year 6 students Nathan Ballissie and Seni Iasona, Alatana raised money for the dementia unit because they wanted to see residents happier and having more to do.

"One day we were at Kandahar reading, and we asked one of the ladies what do you do around here for fun?"

When Alatana heard they walked, sat in the garden and played bowls, she thought of what pupils did for fun: "We make art, play around and draw on iPads. We couldn't buy them iPads, but we wanted them to do art and crafts."

The team raised $144.75 by holding sausage sizzles and bought a cuttlebug machine used for craft activities.

Alatana was nominated by office manager Lynne McCartney, who told organisers of her "genuine compassion, kindness and empathy towards our older generation".


- Wairarapa Times-Age

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