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International recognition for international friendship program

Adelaide and Bangkok care providers are up for international recognition after being named as finalists in the 5th Asia Pacific Eldercare Innovation Awards 2017.

Resthaven residents in the Pen Pal Program - from left to right - Back Row: Roger Cardwell and Noreen Bray, Front Row: Judith Billing, Shirley Kanally and Caryl Brown
Resthaven residents in the Pen Pal Program - from left to right - Back Row: Roger Cardwell and Noreen Bray, Front Row: Judith Billing, Shirley Kanally and Caryl Brown

Nominated for the Innovation of the Year – Service Implementation Award, the Resthaven Malvern and Baan Sudthavas Foundation (BSV) Pen Pal program is seen as a peace and friendship building program for older people from different backgrounds.

“This is a great achievement,” says Wendy Morey, Executive Manager, Workforce Development and Governance, Resthaven. “The nomination indicates that our Pen Pal Program is up there with other innovations on the world state, and that is a real credit to everyone involved.”

Resthaven Malvern and BSV became connected after a chance enquiry from Thai philanthropist Mr Arnop Chirakiti while he was on holiday in South Australia in 2012. At the time, Mr Chirakiti was establishing BSV, a not-for-profit residential care home for older women in Bangkok, Thailand. In 2014 two BSV team members came over to learn and share ideas and from these meetings, the Pen Pal Program was established.

Initially there were just three Resthaven Malvern residents involved in the program. It has recently grown to six, with the latest additions, residents Judith Billing and Shirley Kanally very much looking forward to writing letters and hearing back from their new friends. 

Lifestyle coordinator Felicity Billing who manages the program at Resthaven says ideally they'd love to have 10 residents involved. “Letters are handwritten, and then scanned and emailed,” she explains. “The manager in Thailand translates them, but many over their seem to speak good English.”

Traditional post has also been used by both organisations to exchange gifts such as keyrings, jewellery and boomerangs, and the group has received some colourful cards for some Buddhist festivals.

Judith Billing and Shirley Kanally with some of the gifts received from Baan Sudthavas Foundation

Resident Noreen Bray got involved because she is interested in learning about the culture. “I’ve been to Thailand so I do know a bit about it,” she explains. Ms Bray also had a German penfriend but says they stopped writing when the war was on. “We did get back in touch after the war, and I sent her milk as there was a shortage,” she says. 

Ms Bray says the residents in Thailand seem to have a more structured program with more time spent in the fields, cooking and praying, however she thinks it’s important to learn about the similarities as well as the differences a focus for peace. 

Residents in the Pen Pal Program point out there are a lot of similarities with their penfriends as they share concerns over health conditions and ageing. 

Caryl Brown says she feels real relationships build up between people. She recently shared with her pen pal details of the Adelaide festivals, and how glaucoma can be treated.

Mr Roger Cardwell writes about everyday occurrences, such as describing the local wildlife. “What would be really nice, is if we could go and visit,” he says.  However while he is realistic in that this probably won’t happen, Ms Billings is hoping to arrange a time to Skype so residents can see and speak personally to their friends.

Resthaven Malvern and BSV will find out if their program is the winner when announcements are made at the Awards Dinner on 25 April 2017 in Singapore during the International Ageing Asia Innovation Forum 2017. 

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