UCT students keep elderly citizens company

17 September 2020 | Story Carla Bernardo. Read time 4 min.
UCT medical students have been keeping elderly citizens company over the phone and online during the COVID-19 lockdown. <strong>Photo</strong> <a href="https://pixnio.com/media/covid-19-elderly-face-mask-grandfather-infectious-agent#img_info" target="_blank">Bicanski / PIXNIO</a>.
UCT medical students have been keeping elderly citizens company over the phone and online during the COVID-19 lockdown. Photo Bicanski / PIXNIO.

A group of medical students from the University of Cape Town (UCT) are keeping elderly citizens company during the national lockdown – from a safe distance. The initiative is known as Adopt a Granny/Grandpa and is the work of the student-led UCT Surgical Society (SurgSoc), in partnership with social housing provider Communicare.

SurgSoc was established in 2006 and is affiliated with the Department of Surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital. It’s a group of over 600 medical students who have a passion for surgery, research and outreach. Before the pandemic, their activities included arranging talks, workshops, research projects and outreach initiatives.

During the earlier stages of the lockdown, Communicare approached SurgSoc after the students had run a successful vaccination education campaign with elderly residents. The students jumped at the opportunity, this time by providing elderly residents with companionship during the lockdown.

“This initiative is a unique opportunity to give back and assist our fellow community members through lockdown,” said Alana Williams, SurgSoc’s head of social events and outreach, and a fifth-year medical student.

“The elderly are so often forgotten in many projects and aspects of society, and this initiative was an excellent opportunity to honour them. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share.”

The SurgSoc poster calling for volunteers. Photo Supplied.

When the ongoing initiative was launched in July, Communicare paired volunteers and residents based on common interests and values. Volunteers were also provided with a list of guiding questions, tips and techniques to assist them with making weekly phone calls to their paired granny or grandpa.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for bonding, sharing experiences and providing a kind and compassionate listening ear,” said Williams.

She added that if volunteers are worried about the health and well-being of their paired grandparent, Communicare is available for additional assistance.

Golden nuggets

Williams, who is one of the volunteers, said that she has received many “golden nuggets of knowledge” from her paired granny. She added that her adopted granny also inspired her with her active lifestyle, which includes long walks, yoga and meditation.

Chanelle Pretorius, another student volunteer, said that the greatest lesson she has learnt from her adopted grandpa is the value of family.

“Nothing cheered him up more than speaking about his children and grandchildren. I could almost hear him beaming with pride,” she said.

Pretorius, who is a fourth-year medical student, wanted to volunteer in the hopes that she could help ease the suffering of elderly people during lockdown. She said that the loneliness many older people face has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and those who do have caring families have been cut off from their support systems.

“I thought this was a great way to provide support and upliftment to a granny or grandpa who is most likely missing their lifestyle and support systems.”

While Pretorius hoped that the initiative would provide her with an opportunity to uplift her adopted grandparent, she found herself receiving “heaps of joy and upliftment” in return.

“I never realised how much I had been missing human connection until forging a new bond via telephone.”

Experience and knowledge

The students hope that the initiative will continue even after lockdown restrictions have been lifted.

Williams said that SurgSoc wants to increase the number of student volunteers and would like to branch out into other projects that enhance the health and well-being of elderly people.

“We can learn so much from the grannies and grandpas who have so much experience and knowledge that they can pass onto us as young students and emerging health professionals.”

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 updates

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March 2020 and to implement a national lockdown from 26 March.

UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information. Please note that the information on this page is subject to change depending on current lockdown regulations.

Frequently asked questions


Daily updates

Friday, 5 February 14:20, 5 February 2021
Monday, 4 January 16:50, 4 January 2021
Friday, 18 December 11:30, 18 December 2020
Thursday, 19 November 09:30, 19 November 2020
Friday, 13 November 12:40, 13 November 2020
Friday, 16 October 10:05, 16 October 2020
Wednesday, 14 October 12:50, 14 October 2020
Tuesday, 22 September 14:10, 22 September 2020
Friday, 11 September 10:05, 11 September 2020
Monday, 31 August 12:20, 31 August 2020
Wednesday, 12 August 10:20, 12 August 2020
Friday, 7 August 11:24, 7 August 2020
Thursday, 6 August 18:26, 6 August 2020
Monday, 27 July 14:00, 27 July 2020
Wednesday, 15 July 09:30, 15 July 2020
Monday, 13 July 14:25, 13 July 2020
Monday, 6 July 16:20, 6 July 2020
Thursday, 25 June 10:15, 25 June 2020
Tuesday, 23 June 12:30, 23 June 2020
Thursday, 18 June 17:35, 18 June 2020
Wednesday, 17 June 10:45, 17 June 2020
Tuesday, 2 June 12:20, 2 June 2020
Friday, 29 May 09:25, 29 May 2020
Monday, 25 May 14:00, 25 May 2020
Thursday, 21 May 12:00, 21 May 2020
Wednesday, 6 May 10:00, 6 May 2020
Tuesday, 5 May 17:05, 5 May 2020
Thursday, 30 April 17:10, 30 April 2020
Tuesday, 28 April 10:30, 28 April 2020
Friday, 24 April 09:35, 24 April 2020
Thursday, 23 April 17:00, 23 April 2020
Wednesday, 22 April 14:25, 22 April 2020
Monday, 20 April 17:45, 20 April 2020
Friday, 17 April 12:30, 17 April 2020
Thursday, 16 April 09:45, 16 April 2020
Tuesday, 14 April 11:30, 14 April 2020
Thursday, 9 April 09:00, 9 April 2020
Wednesday, 8 April 15:40, 8 April 2020
Wednesday, 1 April 15:50, 1 April 2020
Friday, 27 March 11:40, 27 March 2020
Thursday, 26 March 18:30, 26 March 2020
Tuesday, 24 March 15:40, 24 March 2020
Monday, 23 March 15:40, 23 March 2020
Friday, 20 March 16:00, 20 March 2020
Thursday, 19 March 09:15, 19 March 2020
Wednesday, 18 March 16:00, 18 March 2020
Tuesday, 17 March 12:50, 17 March 2020
Monday, 16 March 17:15, 16 March 2020

Campus communications


New SRC and other updates 16:44, 4 November 2020
Virtual graduation ceremonies 13:30, 21 October 2020
Online staff assembly and other updates 15:09, 30 September 2020
Fee adjustments and other updates 15:21, 16 September 2020
Call for proposals: TLC2020 10:15, 26 August 2020
SAULM survey and other updates 15:30, 5 August 2020
COVID-19 cases and other updates 15:26, 5 August 2020
New UCT Council and other updates 15:12, 15 July 2020
Upcoming UCT virtual events 09:30, 15 July 2020
Pre-paid data for UCT students 14:25, 22 April 2020
Update for postgraduate students 12:55, 20 April 2020
UCT Human Resources and COVID-19 16:05, 19 March 2020
UCT confirms second COVID-19 case 09:15, 19 March 2020
Update on UCT COVID-19 response 13:50, 11 March 2020
Update on COVID-19 17:37, 6 March 2020


Video messages from the Department of Medicine

Getting credible, evidence-based, accessible information and recommendations relating to COVID-19

The Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, are producing educational video material for use on digital platforms and in multiple languages. The information contained in these videos is authenticated and endorsed by the team of experts based in the Department of Medicine. Many of the recommendations are based on current best evidence and are aligned to provincial, national and international guidelines. For more information on UCT’s Department of Medicine, please visit the website.

To watch more videos like these, visit the Department of Medicine’s YouTube channel.

Useful information from UCT

External resources

News and opinions

Statements and media releases

Media releases

Read more  

Statements from Government


In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”


We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.