• Diana Kahn and housemate Chelsea Yu (Supplied )
"I thought getting old was quite miserable but, after living with Diana, I think getting old can be fun."
By
Vivienne Pearson

19 Jul 2018 - 11:46 AM  UPDATED 20 Jul 2018 - 12:38 PM

Chelsea Yu, 31, is an international student, studying Masters of Social Work at Monash University. She was accepted to become a ‘Homesharer’, to live with an elderly homeowner and provide companionship and non-medical care. She has lived with Diana Kahn, 95, for three months. 

"I grew up in a rural area in southeast China, where most of my family members still live. Before I was born, my father went to Hong Kong so that he could earn a living for his family of five children. Later, my mother went as well and my grandparents looked after us. 

I came to Australia last year. In Hong Kong, I had worked with an international charity organisation. It was a wonderful job but, at the same time, very stressful. I decided to travel and my brother asked me to come to Australia. I had a working holiday visa but finding a job in Australia was more difficult than I could have imagined. So I travelled across Australia mostly by volunteering in yoga ashrams and Tibetan Buddhist temples.  

We are from totally different cultures, different backgrounds, different traditions, different religions and she is fabulous.

I wanted to study something that will help people. Monash University gave me an offer [a Masters of Social Work] and a little bit of a scholarship. I discovered how difficult it is to find a place to live. I was searching flatmates.com and saw the Homeshare programI was very curious. As it’s a government funded program, I felt it was trustworthy, not a scam. I applied online and, after just a few hours I received a call.

At first, they asked if I would like to live with an old lady from China, but I really wanted to learn another culture. So they matched me up with Diana. 

We are from totally different cultures, different backgrounds, different traditions, different religions and she is fabulous. 

I thought getting old was quite miserable but, after living with Diana, I think getting old can be fun. 

There is so much that she can teach me. Just two days ago, we were watching a movie and I learned a bit more about Jewish culture. We watch the news together and she is teaching me about world politics. I didn't learn much about world history, so by talking to her I understand more about the Second World War.

I thought getting old was quite miserable but, after living with Diana, I think getting old can be fun. Diana is living a very active life, she goes swimming every second day and it was inspiring to join her at a class on current affairs. 

Before I lived with Diana, I lived in shared house with two other students. Most of the time, they would just go back into their room so, even though I was living with someone, I felt kind of lonely. Living with Diana, we spend one or two hours every day talking. Sometimes when I have trouble with my assignments, I talk to Diana and she uses common sense to answer a lot of my questions. 

I have made a traditional Hong Kong family dish where we steam a mixture of minced pork and dates. Diana told me that the Polish have a similar dish.

We have a lot of conversations about food. We’ve discovered that people from our hometowns share similar styles in preserving food. Sometimes we have western style food, sometimes Chinese stir-fry. I have made a traditional Hong Kong family dish where we steam a mixture of minced pork and dates. Diana told me that the Polish have a similar dish. We both have a sweet tooth so during my holidays, I usually make pancakes for breakfast. 

I feel like part of Diana’s family. It feels like living with a grandmother. I always tell my friends that I am living with a century of wisdom."

Diana Kahn, 94, left Poland with her parents in 1938 

"I was born in Poland in February 1923 but, because my mother had postnatal depression and was taken to hospital, I wasn't registered until the 21st of October. So, officially, I'm much younger than I really am. 

In Poland, my immediate friends were Catholics and we got on extremely well. But then we experienced terrible anti-Semitism. I was attacked once, on a train. It was before Christmas, when the night falls very early. Someone called out: “There is a Jewess,” and they attacked me. They were going to rape me. But there was one decent man among them and he saved my life. 

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A few months later, we left for Australia. I was 14. We joined the rest of our family in Melbourne, some who had come from Palestine in the 1920s. 

I had already a reasonably good education from attending high school in Poland but, because I couldn’t speak the language, I had to join a class with seven, eight and nine year olds.  

On a Saturday, I would go to Taylor's College and Mr Taylor would give me private tuition. Because I couldn't master English, I developed a bit of a stammer. Mrs Blackwell was an elocution teacher who taught me to speak slowly and helped me in my English.   

My uncle decided that I should learn dressmaking so I became a junior in a factory in Flinders Lane. I learned cutting, design and the factory work and I studied fashion design at night.  

My husband came from Germany. He was interned on Kristallnacht. The Australian Government allowed a number of German Jews who were interned to come to Australia and he arrived in 1939 with his parents. Prior to that he was in Dachau, the concentration camp. He died young; I found out early in our marriage that he had a weakened heart. 

It was my children’s idea to have someone come to live with me, because I don’t want to move to a retirement apartment.  

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Although I've got many numbers - in other words I'm pretty old - I'm still very interested in everything. I love young people, I’ve worked with young people most of my life and I have wonderful children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I probably don’t realise how old I am.  

When you get to my age, it's not so much that you need someone to do the work for you. The main problem is that I don't want to be on my own in my house, especially in the evenings. Reading newspapers doesn’t help because there’s not a day when something nasty doesn’t happen. 

Chelsea is a very warm, loveable person. I am interested in her background and in her politics. I treat her like my own kid. She is a beautiful young woman."

Homeshare is a program matching householders who need some practical assistance to live at home with someone (a ‘Homesharer’) who can provide this help. Uniting has operated Homeshare in Melbourne for 15 years and there are similar programs in Brisbane and Canberra  as well as in the US and Europe. For more information, see https://www.vt.uniting.org/homeshare-program/ or http://www.homeshare.org.au/

Four-part series Dead Lucky premieres Wednesday 25 July, 9.30pm on SBS and will also available on SBS On Demand.

 
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