ORANJESTAD – “It was horrible for someone like me who likes to talk a lot.” Rona Peterson ended up in social isolation during the months of confinement brought forth by corona. The same as many of Aruba’s elderly.
door Sharina Henriquez
The family ties are strong on the island. But because the elderly are part of the high risk group, there has been less contact. Additionally the elderly don’t want to worry their children and other family members.
“They don’t want to bother others. So speaking to a stranger is easier”, says Kim Visser who volunteered as a buddy for lonely elders during the corona lockdown.
The buddy project is a new initiative from the Red Cross, explains project coordinator Indra Anthony-Pereira. “We’ve had the Biba Bida program, filled with activities for those 65 and older, for years. Yes, they usually have family. But what they also miss is contact with their peers. You can talk and share about different subjects with your peers compared to your kids or grandkids.”
When corona arrived, we had to cancel all of our planned activities. “We accelerated the buddy program. It was supposed to be a pilot, but with the experiences we’ve had, we’re going to keep it going. It has proven to make a difference for the elderly during corona”, says Anthony-Pereira.
‘Some of them were so scared, they didn’t even want to go their own yards’
Around 40 volunteers would call tens of elderly individuals weekly. They were mostly pleasant calls in the beginning but after that fear took over, Anthony-Pereira and the other volunteers say. The elders were also eager to get information about the virus.
Some of them also felt stigmatized, says volunteer Minerva Huizinga-Santana. “They were hearing the worldwide news time and time again that if you are old, there’s not enough ventilators, so they would be removed from the list. Because younger individuals were prioritized. They were truly scared and some of them didn’t even want to go into their own yards.”
Erna Solognier says that it’s unbelievable what the volunteers have done for her and for many others. “That someone is thinking about others, that means a lot to me. Maybe we don’t think like that anymore, but I do.”