Emma Borrie was not sure what to expect when she called 88-year-old Dorothy Duncan for the first time.
When New Zealand moved to Alert Level 4, the Waitaki Girls’ High School head girl answered Age Concern Otago’s call for volunteers to connect with older people in the community who were spending the lockdown by themselves.
Five weeks later, Emma (17) said she got more out of volunteering than she could have imagined.
“I was so nervous. I was worried it wouldn’t go smoothly and we wouldn’t know what to talk about, but [Ms Duncan] is one of those people you can just talk to for ages and not even realise how much time has gone by,” she said.
“I’m not sure who is benefiting more out of it, to be honest.”
Before lockdown, Emma had a full schedule of sport and school commitments. She wanted to use her new free time for a good cause.
“I thought, ‘now more than ever it’s time for the community to support each other’,” she said.
Ms Duncan lives alone, and was at home recuperating from a broken hip when Emma called to check in on her for the first time.
“She is a charming young lady,” Ms Duncan said.
She was impressed by Emma’s willingness to volunteer at such a young age.
Ms Duncan moved to New Zealand from Canada 42 years ago, and to Oamaru – a town she described as “a wonderful place to grow old” – 12 years later.
The mother of four had a career as a professional dancer, including a stint as a show dancer in Toronto.
“I danced in all the big shows like Carousel and Brigadoon. I met a lot of famous people,” she said.
“When they bring a show to a city like Toronto, they don’t bring a lot of dancers with them; they bring a lead dancer but they need a chorus.
“That was where we would fill in.”
Ms Duncan’s four sons and extended family are spread out all over the world, so she really appreciated Emma’s calls.
“I’m very well looked after and I’ve got Meals on Wheels and stuff like that, but what you do miss is that human touch,” she said.
Despite the lockdown and broken hip, Ms Duncan was not letting circumstances get her down.
“I do not find life tedious – ever,” she said.
“The older I get the funnier I find it.
“I have a wonderful caregiver [who’s] been coming in since I broke my hip, and we end up laughing every day, to the point we almost get hysterical – and it’s usually about men.”
This was not the way Emma planned, or hoped, to spend her last year of school.
“It is what it is and I’m sure we will all pick up and be able do everything we had planned,” she said.
Once the Covid-19 restrictions ease, Emma and Ms Duncan plan to continue their weekly conversations face to face.