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'Thinking of them': Cambodian program to assist the elderly

On Saturday, August 1, volunteers started arriving at Wat Khemarangsaram in Bonnyrigg early in the morning to put together food hampers for elderly members of the Cambodian community.

Volunteer Sorathy Michell said it was a way of letting the older people in the community know that we are thinking of them.

"People in our community have a caring nature and a caring heart. COVID-19 or not, they turned up with gloves and face masks to see if they could lend a hand," she said.

The day was organised by the Cambodian-Australian Welfare Council (CAWC).

CAWC coordinator Thin Em said: "COVID-19 is affecting all of us, but especially our old people. They're afraid of leaving home or to visit friends and family. Some are distressed because their children have lost their jobs, making it even harder. We are grateful to everyone who came along to help and especially to Multicultural NSW, who provided us with funding through the COVID-19 Community Supports Grant Program."

CAWC runs Cambodian Elderly Day Care programs at Bonnyrigg and Cabramatta to reduce isolation and improve mental and physical health. The elderly looked forward to the groups as a highlight of their week, but due to their age and health, CAWC took the precaution of cancelling group work early on.

Thin said the people who attended felt lonely now and missed their regular outings.

Many of the elderly were also regular worshippers at the temple before restrictions came into place and CAWC approached the Cambodian Buddhist Society for help. Volunteers from the temple came to help with cooking and packaging. Preparation of the food started a few days beforehand with volunteers cutting up green papaya and carrot for salad and marinading beef in lemon grass.

More than 200 hampers were made up. People who live nearby came to the temple to collect their packages and chairs were set out for social distancing so they could wait comfortably in line. Other packages were delivered to people at home by the workers from CAWC.

Ny Seng said: "It was a way of keeping in touch with them as well as providing a nutritious meal. We wanted to see how they are and let them know we care for them. They were waiting for us and gave us big smiles. They told us they are looking forward to the groups starting again."