George, Michael, Sue, Elaine, Gale and June. These names may be familiar to some readers as the group of dedicated people who run our greatly valued Telefriend service.

Telefriend is a peer support service run over the phone for people living with sight loss. June, the team’s coordinator and long-serving member (she’s been involved with Telefriend since 1995), explains that all of the team live with sight loss themselves. This gives them an affinity with callers that means they can talk about similar experiences with sight loss, including the lows and the highs.

The team of six came runners-up at the Minister of Health Volunteer Awards in 2019, which gives recognition to unsung heroes who support New Zealand’s health and disability services.

Recognition is well-deserved, with each member dedicating one day a week voluntarily to supporting the service and making contact with an always-evolving group of members. They each make at least ten calls every week and Telefriend participants will often say how much they value the conversation.

But, of course, recognition is not what they’re here for.

“We all get something out of it. We’re helping someone and in that way we find it quite rewarding. The people that we ring, we get good feedback and people saying they look forward to their calls. You get more out of it than you put in,” explains June.

Blind & Low Vision NZ counsellors may refer people to Telefriend, as additional support, when they are not feeling confident in their situation and feeling isolated.

While the common ground shared on the phone is that of sight loss, June says that depending on where someone is in adjusting with their vision they don’t always realise that the Telefriend team are living with sight loss too.

“When people talk to us, it’s about them and it’s not about ourselves. It really is about listening, and when callers are ready it may come out in a future conversation that we share sight loss and we are able to find ways to relate.”

But the conversation doesn’t have to be about sight loss: “It can be lonely living with sight loss because you can’t see what’s going on out the window, and so we are here to talk about anything you like,” says June.

June enjoys the contact and the talking herself: “I get told I’m a chatterbox!”

She implores, “Don’t be afraid to make contact. I know people don’t always like ringing strangers, but we’re full of fun. And good conversation too!”

How to contact Telefriend

Telefriend is a caring, confidential service protected by a code of practice and staffed by trained volunteers who are blind or have low vision themselves.

Phone Telefriend for a friendly chat on 0800 100 051 any time from Monday to Friday between 1pm and 4pm. Outside of these hours, callers can leave a message and the team will return your call.

You can also get in touch about our other counselling services by calling 0800 24 33 33 or emailing info@blindlowvision.org.nz