Gina Simmonds – Get Online Week 2021
Gina’s touching story of how getting online helped her reconnect with lost family after more than 50 years.
When 83-year-old Gina Simmonds started learning digital skills, little did she know that getting online would help her to reconnect with her sister for the first time in 54 years.
Previously, Gina had some experience with the basics of computers, such as sending emails and banking online, as well as through her volunteer work with Lifeline. But it wasn’t until she started attending digital skills classes at Fibre Network Choices through Good Things Foundation Australia’s Be Connected program that she gained the confidence to use Google and video call.
“I like the fact that I am learning and that I can go forward another step each week and come home, knowing that I could suddenly learn how to FaceTime,” says Gina of her experience going to Be Connected classes.
Using the internet to connect with others has been an essential part of many of our lives, especially during the pandemic. For Gina though, this new digital skill helped her realise an opportunity she once thought impossible – to see her sister again after decades of being separated.
Gina explains that when she was with her sister when they were younger, their bond was undeniable.
“I met her when I was 20 and we had an absolute instant kind of love for each other – it was very intense. We were very close and we looked a lot alike too, and had lots of mannerisms and everything [that were] the same,” says Gina.
However, changing circumstances meant that they were unable to keep in contact after just a few years together in England. That was until recently, when her sister reached out to Gina’s granddaughter through Ancestry.com after recognising her name.
“And with that, we were connected after 54 years,” says Gina.
At first, Gina and her sister communicated through long text messages (something Gina says she didn’t have the skills to do even a few years ago). After a week, they decided to video call.
“I wasn’t content with just pressing the FaceTime button [on my iPhone], because I wanted the big picture. I didn’t know how to tie the iPhone and the iPad up together so that we could actually FaceTime each other.”
With support from Lachlan, a Digital Mentor at Fibre Network Choices in Coffs Harbour, Gina was able to set up FaceTime on her iPad and see her sister for the first time in over five decades.
“It was a very emotional first meeting,” recalls Gina. “She sat at her table with her iPad, and I sat at my table with mine, and it was just like sitting at the dining room table talking to her.
Now, Gina and her sister meet up every afternoon through FaceTime, with Gina saying “there’s 54 years to catch up on!”. Gina’s sister now lives in South Australia and they plan on meeting in-person once travel restrictions allow for it.
“I just think, having learnt all this technology is just amazing…Without it, I doubt that it could’ve worked the same way with an ordinary telephone one-to-one.”
Gina says that once you learn basic digital skills “your life will change” – and that is certainly true for Gina and her sister. Gina now spreads the word about Be Connected and encourages others to find online digital skills support in their community.
Find support to get online in a fun and friendly environment by attending an event during Get Online Week 2021 this 18-24 October. Get Online Week is Good Things Foundation Australia’s digital inclusion campaign which sees hundreds of community organisations run COVID-safe in-person and online events to support Australians to get online.
Find a local Get Online Week event in your area or attend an online event anywhere across the country. Use our event map to find free and friendly support to learn digital skills or call the Good Things Foundation team on 1300 795 897.