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Rural retiree finds unexpected benefits in volunteer work

Keeping active: retiree and English Language Partners volunteer, Trish Marshall, with her husband Russell on their Southland farm. Photo: Gayle Clearwater

Social contact, continued mobility and keeping your mind active are just some of the benefits Trish Marshall sees in volunteering.

The rural Southland retiree says that if rural women are interested in being part of something new, they should go ahead and do it.

Just because you live 50 miles out in the country, it doesn’t mean that it should stop you doing things,” she says.


“I’m not doing anything better or bigger or more than what other people are doing – you gain as much as you give.”

Trish used to be a nurse in Invercargill and realised the importance of social contact, particularly for people in danger of becoming isolated and lonely.

When working, she used to stay in Invercargill, then during time off, travel 75 km to the family farm at Pukemaori, so volunteering wasn’t that feasible. However, after retiring, she pursued her wish to volunteer.

“Not only to do something useful, but to do something for myself as well.”

The hearty 67-year-old joined Rural Women NZ and started volunteering for Victim Support and as an ESOL home tutor with English Language Partners (ELP), which works with adult migrants and former refugees.

A natural fit

The English tutoring seemed a natural fit. Trish and her husband Russell have travelled extensively, especially because their two children live overseas. In addition, she’s always loved reading books.

“The English and the spelling, and the words and the reading,” she enthuses.

As a reader, she considers it unfair for people not to have a chance to read.

“I can’t imagine coming to New Zealand and not knowing a word of English.”

In 2018, Trish did 20 hours training at ELP’s Invercargill centre and was then matched with a learner, which is a careful process to make sure the tutor and student “click”.

Meeting Islam

Her first learner is Islam Rabai’ah, a 27-year-old Jordanian geography teacher who migrated with her young son to join her husband who was working in Invercargill.

“[She] has got an entirely different focus to me, as an old duck living in the country – and doesn’t that make it more interesting?”

Trish says the system is informal and is about developing a relationship, with each learner having different needs and goals.

“A 60-year-old grandma from China will be different to a young mum.”

Islam is a young mother, doesn’t drive and didn’t have contact with other young mums. She wanted to learn how to go grocery shopping and order coffee at a cafe, so the pair did this together.

Then she asked how to catch a local bus, which proved an adventure for them both.

I haven’t been on the city council buses for 40, 50 years,” Trish says.


After learning how to use Invercargill buses, Islam could then take one by herself and was no longer confined to her home.

“As well as the English language, it’s as much about helping them learn the New Zealand way of life.”

Trish says Islam is intelligent, eager to learn and already knew some English words, however needed to practise and become more confident using the language.

English Language Partners home tutor, Trish Marshall (left), and learner, Islam Rabai’ah, in the ELP Invercargill centre library/resource room. Photo: Gayle Clearwater

The pair combine excursions with weekly hour-and-a-half lessons around the kitchen table. They might read a newspaper article and work on spelling or meanings or discuss the illustration.

Islam is temporarily back in her home country and couldn’t be interviewed for this story. However, Trish says that in time, Islam would like to get a job.

“At the end of the day, if I saw her employed, that’s huge – for everyone.”

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For further information:

About English Language Partners

About volunteering generally


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