Two decades of volunteering

Daphne Sowerby’s story
May 11, 2018
Stephen and Mae Wong

Two decades of volunteering

Sunday mornings are generally a time to relax and take it easy, particularly if you work full-time, but one Palmerston North couple give up this precious time to volunteer at Arohanui Hospice. What’s remarkable about this is that Stephen and Mae Wong have been doing it for more than 20 years.

Stephen and Mae, both secondary school teachers, retired at the  end of last year and while they are still becoming accustomed
to retirement, they won’t be giving up their volunteer work anytime soon. Many hospice volunteers give their time to the hospice because they had have a friend or family member a patient there, but Stephen and Mae became involved for an entirely different reason.

‘‘It’s a long story,’’ says Stephen. ‘‘Our son, Benson, was in med school and needed to get a job in a hospital environment. He tried at the hospice but couldn’t get a job there so he ended up working as an orderly at Palmerston North Hospital. Since he is in the medical field, we thought we would volunteer at the hospice. That was when it was under June Connor and there were only six or eight rooms.’’ Mae says they started out working at the hospice every Saturday. 

‘‘On the days we volunteered, we got muffins. We changed to Sundays as some of the volunteers like to go to church. We work there every Sunday, although only during term time. As teachers, we felt it was only fair to have a break during the school holidays.’’ Initially, Mae was accepted as a volunteer receptionist.

‘‘But there wasn’t much to do so she started doing some cleaning.  She was running between the phone and the bucket,’’ says Stephen. Their role now is to clean patients’ rooms and to make the  morning tea. ‘‘We always greet the patients, and then we play it by ear if they want  to talk or if they aren’t up to it,’’ says Mae.

Over the last few years, Mae has been recruiting some of her senior pupils at Palmerston North Girls’ High School where she was a maths teacher. ‘‘It’s good for the girls and they need to do volunteer work if they are doing their Duke of Edinburgh awards. We take them under our wing and we see them really maturing. It gets the girls used to working and it gives them some responsibility as well.’’ Stephen says he and Mae also gain a lot from their volunteer work. ‘‘It is really only two hours of our time,  but we have learned a lot about ourselves.’’

Mae says working at the hospice is very grounding. ‘‘It brings you back to reality, and it makes you think that things could be a lot worse.’’ Stephen and Mae, who are originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, have lived in New Zealand for more than 40 years. Stephen was sent to school in Auckland in 1968 and Mae arrived in 1973. Stephen moved to Palmerston North to study at Massey and they have been here ever since.

‘‘Palmerston North is such a lovely place, it’s quiet and it’s very close to everything.’’ For five years Stephen and Mae operated the city’s first Malaysian restaurant, called Mae’s Place in George St, but when their son turned eight, they felt they needed to devote more of their time to his activities. Mae says it was also time for them to return to their professions. She had been a research assistant at DSIR and Stephen was a computer programmer. Stephen went on to teach maths and computer programming at Queen Elizabeth College for 24 years. He still spends time in the classroom as a relief teacher. Mae spent 18 years at PNGHS.