Working with communities over the years throughout different countries we have come to realise the importance of our collective inheritance being understood and passed over to the next generation, equipping them for the challenges of their generation.
Over the last few years, we have engaged in intergenerational work between young people and adults who have experienced disadvantage (homelessness, substance misuse and poor mental health). We created intergenerational opportunities for young people engage with and learn from older adults and their experiences and memories of society without the many welfare safety nets. Using photography and audio recording the groups visited different locations locally to appreciate the local history and its impact on the current social and political environs that exist nationally and locally.
Because of the various lockdowns over the last few years, many older adults have been denied access to the usual social interaction they would have had by attending their local clubs, community centres, lunches or groups. During the pandemic we were involved with some of the local residential care and nursing homes. Using our partner’s commercial kitchen, we delivered afternoon tea pastries every week for each of these establishments. To recreate a live afternoon tea experience, we linked each care home in via a video conferencing call which was relayed onto one of their large TVs within one of the communal sitting areas. We worked with independent entertainers to live stream hours’ worth of entertainment, including clowns, musicians, and singers. The entertainment allowed the residents to interact with those on their screen as well as each other, which then reduced their sense of isolation and encouraged social interaction and cohesion.
In Ukraine, before the recent conflict began, we worked for many years with our partners in Belarus, Romania, and Ukraine to train young people to deliver peer mentoring projects with older adults 65+ in their own country. The project explored different volunteering models and exposed the young people to different ways they can make a more positive contribution to their own local and global communities by becoming involved in intergenerational work.
By training the young people in how to use some of their own time to volunteer within their own community they were then able to benefit an older adult in one of the state institutions or who was isolated and living on their own. Within this volunteering relationship the young person and the older adult participated in shared activities together (e.g. cooking together, gardening, discussion work and craft work) and in so doing deconstructed the idea of social isolation and allowed more older adults to benefit from being more included in society.
In Crimea, before its annexation, we worked with several organsiations to develop intergenerational work between different youth organisations Turbota pro Litnikh, the national older person’s NGO and the Ministry of Health in Crimea. One of the youth organisations also worked with the Tatar community in the Crimea.
The project’s aim was that the youth organisations would recruit and train young volunteers who would then be matched with older people and undertake volunteer placements arranged by Turbota pro Litnikh to provide everyday assistance, support and befriending to older people.
STAND’s role was to facilitate knowledge exchange and support intercultural learning and support the training of the volunteers via a cascade approach, with the volunteer coordinators returning to their towns and villages and disseminating the knowledge among groups of volunteers there. Thus, the knowledge they gained will have a greater reach over time, as individual young volunteers are often only able to engage in volunteering activity for a relatively short time (typically between six months and three years) before they leave to study, get a job or have their own family commitments. The volunteer coordinators are established in a more long-term way and so can continue to pass on the knowledge gained from the training to new generations of volunteers.
One of the projects was in Belogorsk, a town of 20,000 people between Simferopol and Yalta, with a large Tatar population. The local Turbota pro Litnikh branch had recently started a youth volunteering initiative and had recruited a group of young men (16-17 years old) with motor scooters who are being matched with older people who, due to a lack of local public transport, struggle to get their medication or to carry heavy shopping and firewood.
The collaborative gain was exceptional – apart from the older people receiving the support they need, the young men get kudos within their peer group, meet members of their community they wouldn’t normally and have respect from their families. In addition, the local administration saw young people zooming around on motor scooters as a positive rather than anti-social behaviour.
In Yalta, the focus was also on practical issues. Young people were involved in teaching older people how to use their mobile phones, threading needles for older people who can’t see very well, and bikers doing small repairs and delivering shopping and medication on their motorbikes. Local medical students were also involved as they (and their tutors) consider the volunteering part of their humanitarian studies.
In the village of Yarkoe (population 2,000) we heard that the older people are often very proud of their independence so it is vital that there is a ‘warm’ introduction – from a family member or neighbour. A group model has been developed where an older volunteer coordinates a group of younger volunteers and together, they look after a number of older people which facilitates continuity and the development of trust.
Unfortunately, with the annexing of Crimea in 2014 by Russia, the political landscape changed and the organisations were either disbanded or became involved in other activities that they considered more important to their everyday survival.