South Africa: Help for the Elderly Continues During Lockdown

UCT News spoke to business science student Kate Charter about Cape Town Against Corona - the volunteer group she started to assist elderly people in the city during the coronavirus outbreak as they are at a significantly higher risk of complications should they contract the disease.

Amid the pandemic, Charter's work, and the work of the volunteers who have joined her, is a shining example of solidarity and humanity in action.

When asked if any other University of Cape Town (UCT) staff and students had volunteered their services, a special mention was Dr Leon Geffen, an honorary senior lecturer in the Division of Geriatric Medicine with the Albertina & Walter Sisulu Institute of Ageing in Africa and the executive director of the Samson Institute For Ageing Research (SIFAR).

"He has offered me so much help and support, from having the team at SIFAR develop online databases for my pairing of volunteers and elderly, to putting me in contact with those in the Cape Town community who could help spread the word of the organisation and offer me the best advice going forward," said Charter.

She added that there have been UCT students who have signed up, but she is not able to provide their names yet.

Carla Bernardo (CB): Why did you start Cape Town Against Corona?

Kate Charter (KC): I was motivated by a wish to use my time away from university to do something productive that would bring about a positive from a very troublesome situation. I came across a similar organisation (now partnering with us) called Shopping Angels in the United States (US) and found nothing had been set up in South Africa. I just took the initiative and set up Cape Town Against Corona.

CB: What has been the response thus far? From calls for volunteers and donations to feedback online?

KC: The response has been fantastic! In terms of volunteers, we had over 150 sign up within two days of starting the initiative in mid-March, and it grows every day. I have also had fantastic help offered to me by companies in the city, offering anything from marketing help to research and database development - sophisticated systems and processes I otherwise would not have been able to develop. And I never asked for donations but have been offered regardless.

CB: With the lockdown happening, is there any way we can continue supporting the elderly? Will the group evolve to do so?

CB: How many elderly people have you managed to assist? What form has this assistance taken?

KC: It is difficult to say how many exactly we have assisted as we have also helped other organisations for the elderly in providing their services. For example, we helped Meals on Wheels to deliver 500 meals to the elderly around Cape Town [on Thursday, 26 March]. Some volunteers have also developed relationships with the elderly and therefore take responsibility to deliver to them without even going through the initiative. This is exactly what I wanted though, for the Cape Town community to come together and look out for each other; the organisation just being a platform to help this connection happen.

KC: Yes, we will continue to operate, as has our partner organisation in the US. I am currently in the process of having an identity card developed for volunteers, which they can show to authorities if they question what they are doing. However, in the meantime, volunteers will only be paired with the elderly within their area to avoid complications.

If you would like to get involved, contact Charter on capetownagainstcovid19@gmail.com and follow the group on Facebook.

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