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BONNEUIL-SUR-MARNE, France – For Jacqueline Tolu, a 98-year-old French woman, and Elliot Bellman, a 20-year-old student living in his parents’ house in England, the COVID-19 pandemic upended their lives but also led to an unlikely friendship.
Tolu has endured isolation in her care home near Paris because visits are restricted during the pandemic, while Bellman’s plans to be in France this year studying French were torpedoed by the virus.
For the past six months, the two have been having weekly chats over Skype, brought together by a scheme called Shareami that pairs elderly people with language students.
Tolu now has someone to talk to and relieve her loneliness and Bellman has an opportunity to practise his French with a native speaker. But also, they hit it off.
“I was nervous meeting a new person, completely different generation, different culture, different language,” said Bellman, who is in his third year studying French, Spanish and Japanese at Britain’s Warwick University.
“But as soon as I started talking to her, she’s very … easy to talk to, she’s very funny, she just keeps the conversation going easily,” he said.
“We’ve created a friendship.”
On their weekly call on Monday, Bellman dialled in from his bedroom in his parents’ home in Kent, southern England, where he has been riding out the pandemic. Tolu joined while sitting in a wheelchair at her care home in Bonneuil-sur-Marne.
Bellman showed Tolu an origami goose he has made, she enquired about how his Japanese studies were going, and she recalled living through the 1944 Allied D-Day invasion as a young girl living near the Normandy landing beaches.
Tolu said their chats allow her, at least in her mind, to escape the confines of the care home for a little while every week. “It gives me a lot of pleasure,” she said.