Bright, warm and bubbly, Demi Isaac Oviawe beams at me from my laptop screen, full of chat and enthusiasm, despite having spent the day in online interviews. We have bagged her final interview spot for today at 4pm, but her energy and approach are as if we are her first call in the morning.
The young actress, known for her role as Linda on ‘The Young Offenders’, is an ambassador for CokexALONE’s new Christmas campaign, designed to combat the loneliness that can accompany Christmas time for so many older people. On December 3rd, Mícheál O’Muircheartaigh and Demi Isaac Oviawe launched Coca-Cola and ALONE’s Christmas campaign to help battle loneliness. Coca-Cola is donating €30,000 to support ALONE services this Christmas and is asking young people around the country to connect safely with an older person and share a video, image or a story about it on social media using #CokexALONE to inspire others to do the same.
This year, more than ever, it is a vital and important idea to promote, and Demi, with her willingness to chat and broad, friendly Cork accent, seems like the perfect person represent this campaign.
She details how the campaign was designed to create a support network for older people during this isolating and dangerous time. ALONE shared that between March 2020 and November 2020 there has been over 37,037 calls to ALONE National Support, looking for support during what was a very trying time for the world as a whole. CokeXALONE is aiming to encourage people around the country to connect safely with one older person this Christmas.
Demi chatted to us about the importance of cross-generational connections and how they can benefit the mental health of both young people and the elderly and help battle loneliness this Christmas.
The Cork actress said it was mixture of things that made her get involved in this timely campaign, but her main motivation was her own grandparents, and how it would feel not to be able to connect with hers.
‘My grandparents, all my grandmothers actually, are very lucky to have people who can come over and see them, or we can video call them. They know how to use phones, and this kind of made me realise that not everyone is gifted or lucky enough to have people who can come over and see them or have carers to come see them.'
She highlighted how for some elderly people, their only form of communication and interaction with others is by going to the shop or going for walks or going to mass, but that Covid has put a stop to all of that.
‘ALONE and Coca Cola are trying to encourage young people to interact with elderly people and they can check out more information on alone.ie. Just become a sponsor and you can speak to people.’
She explained how important ties between the community are, and how ‘young people can give elderly people a lot of information. Such as, they can teach them how to use a phone or how to use Skype or how to operate anything really, it’s really just to have a chat with them.’
And it goes both ways, apparently.
‘Mícheál for example,’ Demi’s eyes light up when she mentions her fellow CokexALONE ambassador, commentator Mícheál O’Muircheartaigh and how cross-generational interaction has benefits on both ends of the conversations.
‘He’s been giving me so much information. He keeps talking about birds and I was telling him my next door neighbors have racing pigeons. He asked me, “Did you know that they used to use pigeons to send messages for like scores for matches back in the day?”
I never knew that, blew my mind. I thought he was only joking with me, but no, his wife was like, “No Demi, like, he’s very serious”. It’s not like the 1800s they were doing that,’ she informs me, eyes dark and serious. ‘It was in the 1940s and 50s. And I thought that was absolutely gas.’
She’s clearly been enjoying her responsibilities, immersed in the campaign already, speaking about the various, Covid-frendly ways to reach out this Christmas and make a connection, encouraging us all to connect through the campaign.
‘It’s Zoom and it’s Instagram, it’s any form of media actually. If you wanted to communicate with an elderly person you can go on Zoom, you can go on Skype, you can go on Facetime. Or you can call to their house, as long as it’s socially distanced. If you want to share your connection and show that you are interacting with an elderly person, you can use the hashtag #CokexALONE. Coca Cola are donating €30,000 for the ALONE project so it’s for a great cause.’
As a media student herself, I was keen to hear Demi’s thoughts on the campaign and how important technology has become as a connector in the last year. The focus on technology and community outreach has never been so important and she was excited to share her knowledge.
‘All forms [of media] would be good, it depends on who you’re targeting. Tik Tok is mad right now for grabbing the attention of young people. You’ve got Instagram, you’ve got Twitter, you’ve even got Facebook for people who are slightly older than I am.’
This isn’t the first charity campaign that Demi has worked with, having just recently been an ambassador for the 2020 VHI Women’s Marathon. And I wanted to know, had she always felt a drive to advocate for those that are voiceless or less represented in our community?
‘I ran it on behalf – rather I walked, jogged technically,’ she laughed at herself. ‘On behalf of Irish Cancer Association, for my parents. I do things largely that are very personal, and they have stories behind them and they have reasons behind it. Like for CokexALONE, with my grandmothers, they have someone with them at the moment. They know how to use Whatsapp and video calling so it feels like she’s in our house almost.
‘Whereas before we would have just rung her phone, now she gets to actually see us and interact with us. So, it’s nice to know that there’s an option like this for elderly people, that they can have some form of communication with younger people a well. And just feel included in society.’
Being included has been a major theme throughout Demi’s career. Getting a seat at the table is an issue close to the Nigerian-Irish actress’s heart. And even once she got her big break on ‘The Young Offenders’ her character and her real self, were subject to a great deal of online hate. And yet, despite this, she continues to stand up and put herself out there.
‘I had done an interview there a few months ago, once the whole BLM movement had started. At the start of my career, I found it funny when people used to insult me online, because, you’re not going to have the courage to say it to my face. So, I had just done an interview for BLM and it’s a very serious topic, it’s not me talking a load of rubbish, it’s factual. It’s me giving my experience with racism.
‘And the amount of hate that I’d got…these people were in their thirties to fifties, insulting me for voicing my…not trauma, but what I’d been through. Like, horrendous. And I could see their faces so it wasn’t just a random comment, I could see these people, they had grandkids. It was disgusting what they were saying.
‘And that wasn’t the first time I’ve gotten hate in my career; I’ve gotten hate the minute ‘The Young Offenders’ came out because I looked different and people didn’t like the way I looked.
‘You’re always going to get hate, and you’re always going to get people criticizing you, for being something different or being someone, they truly wish they were. And the best way to deal with it is simply just ignoring it. It’s sacred for your mental health and to be honest, if you’re not giving them attention, they can’t do anything then. It just undermines you. It doesn’t bother me at all.’
If anything, Demi seems to strive to rise above the attacks on her, by campaigning for more diversity in the Irish media. She recently appeared on a panel to discuss the matter and had drawn links between lack of representation mental health issues. She was thoughtful when I asked if it affected older people in the same way, to not see full representations of themselves in the media.
‘I feel like it works the same way? I can’t tell you how exactly they would feel, but I think if it was me in that situation, it would be hurtful. They’re part of our communities, and that goes for any form of minorities or any form of person. If you see someone who is between the ages 20-35, blonde hair, blue eyes, skinny, straight, that’s already discouraging, because you can’t relate to that character, you can’t relate to their struggles, you can’t relate to anything because you look completely different to them.
‘Whereas if you had a TV show that was like a sitcom that was dedicated to just the elderly, sure they would be able to get the jokes better than I would! It’s their age group, it’s their demographic, and their situation that they can relate to, you know? I feel like it must be difficult for them, and I feel like, especially with the CokexALONE campaign, it’s not that they’re ashamed, it’s just that they’re too embarrassed to say they’re alone? CokexALONE just want to tell people, look, they’re alone, they need someone to talk to, they need comfort. And I feel like that’s what is so great about this campaign.’
In order to get more involved, find out what you can do or just learn a little more, Demi urges everyone to check out the ALONE website.
‘On an individual level, if you want to get more information, do check out the alone.ie website. It’s like a pen pal, really, if you think about it. Remember we used to do pen pals in school? It’d be great craic, writing a letter. Even if you did something like that or you found someone in your area, walk your way over to them, deliver their shopping for them, or check up on them once a week, any form of interaction, that you possibly can. Or if you can have a video call with them every second or third day that would be great as well.
‘Anything that’s possible. On a political level – I don’t get involved in politics – but I will say that there could be a lot more done for the elderly or for those who are more vulnerable, especially during Covid and the pandemic.’
If anyone could convince you to get more involved, it would be Demi. A great person backing a great cause can only draw more people to it, and this is a truly worthy cause backed by a woman with a strong voice that needs to be heard. Check out more about the campaign on social media with the hashtag #CokexAlone.