MS CVS celebrating 30 years of friendship in 2022

Rahman's story

Each month in 2022, we'll be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the MS Community Visitors Scheme by sharing the stories of some of the program's longtime volunteers. This month we're sharing Rahman's story.

Whenever I visit, I have one mission only and that is to give quality time.

In the early 80s when I arrived in Australia, the local newspaper, The Leader, was a great resource for finding out about events and opportunities in the neighbourhood. In 1991, I saw the advertisement ‘Volunteers needed, Friends for Older People Program’. I called up and spoke with Jill Marshall, my first program coordinator, who explained the program to me.

Since joining I have had the pleasure of making eight friends. I do not like to use the word resident or recipient — we are friends. The Community Visitors Scheme (CVS) aligns with my value of ‘we can all play a part in making a positive difference to another person, in making someone’s day a better one’.

Whoever I visit, I have one mission only and that is to give quality time. That has looked different for each person. 

One lady I visited needed more rest. If I arrived and she was asleep, my mission was to keep company. I was there. If she woke, I was present to talk and to listen. My purpose is to be there. In making new friends there can be challenges. We are all unique and have different characteristics. Some of my friends have had dementia, low hearing, are a little unresponsive, like more rest or are demanding, but in a positive way.

The program coordinators at MS CVS of which I have had 15 and the staff of the Aged Care Home have always been available to support me. Other times family members have been able to answer questions to allow me to have a deeper insight into the person I am visiting.

Throughout my own life journey of scouting student, trade union leader, military service, civilian career, marriage, children, job changes — volunteering has been a constant. Volunteering in Australia is the centre of gravity of the values of our society of respect, care, empathy, and citizen rights. It gives action to social justice issues.

I have learnt many skills in my 30 years as a Community Visitor. My listening capacity has increased. In listening to my friends, my personal empathy for individuals, for our country, our society has grown. I have heard inspiring stories of life experiences, career advancements and achievements of teachers, singers, farmers, seamen, aeroplane pilots and family matriarchs.

There have been many memorable friendships and moments I can reflect upon, some happy and some not so happy. I have even had a marriage proposal. A 95-years-old, former catholic primary school teacher claimed she ‘wants to marry me’. We shared a laugh.

I remember the farmer from Cobram, a true-blue chap who proudly showed me above his bed his certificate of graduation from grade six in 1916. A Seaman, who had travelled all over the world who had learnt the language and something of the culture of every port he stopped. He was a 45- year-old man with MS on his own in Australia when we became friends.

I will never forget the time I had my six month-old daughter Emma visiting with me and sitting together was a mother and son. For over 30 minutes the lady of European descent, speaking in her mother tongue spoke with my daughter. They did not have to be speaking the same language to connect. They communicated with facial expressions, touch and feeling. The son thanked me for the pleasure my daughter gave to his mother who was isolated because of the language barrier.

Some of the friends I have visited over the years have shared their resentment and frustration of being in an aged care home, their wish to return to their own home, their desire to live a normal life. On these occasions I like to listen rather than respond. To give the opportunity for the person to talk and express their feelings. I listen and nod with them. As friends we share stories of life, all the colours and emotions of joy and sadness.

In the 30 years of being a Community Visitor, each friend that has died has remained with me. There are moments in time when they pop up and are with you – on holidays, at work, at home, in the car, on public transport. The memory of that person comes to you. In many ways the friends you make become a book with you and their precious life is remembered.

Even my first friend, I did not meet. I arrived with Jill, Program Coordinator. He was not to be found and then the staff informed Jill and I that he had passed away the night before. We felt numb with this news. I never expected I would be facing this. He was my first friend. I remember him too.

My current friend, Hans and I have been matched since 2005. Initially a friend but now more like a family member. We share everything. He knows my family, my wife and daughters by name and asks after each one. We discuss music, poetry, cultures, spirituality, social issues, the environment, climate, sport (footy, cricket, tennis), local and world politics, childhood memories and food. Hans’ favourite food is a McDonald’s apple pie. I arrive on each visit with a cappuccino, and we sit and talk over coffee as friends do. Hans is a creative soul, a singer, poet, song writer, a visionary, an intellectual with a great sense of humour and my dear friend.

I am thankful for all my friends, for the time shared, for inspiring me. In my 30 years with the CVS I have always felt I have gained more than I have given. The power of friendship is that we give and receive abundantly.

Rahman, Community Visitor since 1991

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