Sometimes it takes a visit to another land to see what is right in front of you at home.
Saanich retirees Imelda Phelan and Fergus Macintosh are volunteers with Saanich Volunteer Services.
They both came to the senior-dedicated organization within the last 18 months. Phelan works a half day as a SVS receptionist each week while Macintosh commits two afternoons per week as a volunteer driver, one of the main offerings from SVS.
Though they’re reluctant to make a direct comparison, they can’t help but observe the differences in the social structure that surrounds senior living here compared to Nepal and Pakistan. The two spent more than a decade in those countries raising their two boys, a placement as part of Macintosh’s 30-year career with Unicef.
“Over there it’s typical to see the traditional extended family all under the same roof,” said Macintosh. “Parents become grandparents and support the raising of the grandchildren.”
In that instance family members know their role long before they reach it. However, here we are seeing people who suffer the impact of isolating circumstances.
As SVS driver, Macintosh helps clients to the doctor or grocery store. Clients are often chatty and Macintosh has heard many an interesting life story.
“It’s a big deal losing your driver’s licence or ability to drive,” Macintosh said. “It can be a big hit to your lifestyle.”
The two began volunteering long before they settled on a property near Mount Douglas Park 15 years ago. When they lived abroad, Phelan sometimes worked for the United Nations, but not always. When she wasn’t employed by the UN, she never stopped “working,” and would lend a hand with neighbours, whether it was next door, or a kilometre down the road.
“There was often local women’s groups that I joined and there were always fundraisers for orphanages,” Phelan said.
“It’s clear that wherever Phelan and Macintosh go, they find a way to connect with the community,” said Gail Snider.
The executive director of SVS praised their work ethic, saying they’re the kind of people who’ll try to do anything they’re asked.
With SVS Phelan spends a half day every week as a receptionist, often connecting drivers with clients.
“With about 45 drivers and clients in the hundreds, there is always a need for more drivers,” said Macintosh. “It’s rewarding, I recommend it to people who can help out.”