A charity in Bolivia is using a social media strategy to bring joy to lonely seniors by recruiting young people to engage with them. With an aging global population, it's a compassionate model worth exploring elsewhere – a way to promote social inclusion that benefits both generations. – Philip Bane
The global development site Devex tells the story of Nieto Voluntario ("Voluntary Grandchild" in Spanish) – a charity in Bolivia that is recruiting young people to interact with lonely, low-income seniors living in old folks' homes or shelters. Charity officials say the goal is to bring these older people – some of whom have been abandoned by their families -- joy and greater self-esteem and to reduce their loneliness.
The founders used their marketing and advertising backgrounds to develop a Facebook recruitment campaign targeting young people ranging in age from 19 to 24. Within two months of its launch, they had nearly 250 volunteers.
“Many of our volunteers had recently lost their grandparents,” co-founder Silver Reyes told Devex. “Young people often tend more toward working with children. Our volunteers found they took to the work well because they hadn't had children yet, but had a lot of experience looking after their grandparents.”
In some cases, Nieto Voluntario has also been able to use Facebook to reunite seniors with their families.
The volunteer work is seen as a way to engage unemployed young people in worthwhile activity. Beyond companionship, there are gaps they can fill such as helping seniors use computers or access information.
Those familiar with the initiative also see it teaching young people patience, caring and respect – and in doing so helping combat problems that often lead older people to feeling excluded in the first place.
"Young people are always on their phones, so when they see that we need something, they come," Sister Maria del Carmen Laguna Esteras, mother superior at Hogar San José home for older adults in Cochabamba told Devex. "There are key points of need, such as the military parade for independence day -- about 70 volunteers showed up."
On the other hand, retention can be a challenge working with young volunteers. Nieto Voluntario says many of their initial recruits are no longer active, but they have a core group that remains active and engaged.
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