Stichting SeniorenStudent brings senior citizens in touch with interested students. For example, every two weeks medical student Saskia van Grondelle takes 71-year-old Rosa Kelderman on a new outing. “There’s always something fun to do together.”
The fact that Saskia and Rosa can be found together on this sunny afternoon is thanks to Stichting SeniorenStudent. This national foundation brings senior citizens who would like some help and company in touch with students who want to make a contribution to society (see the sidebar). Similar to a dating platform, both the student and the senior citizen fill in a profile that lists their favourite activities, and which qualities they are looking for in their partner. This can lead to an ideal match. Well, ideal… “Actually, I had asked for a nice young man,” Rosa says with a smile.
Glad to have contributed
And that’s how Saskia and Rosa teamed up. For almost three months now, the two set out every two weeks for a Sunday trip, to destinations like the Hilton Hotel and the World Museum. And they have a full calendar for the months ahead too: museums, cooking together, cycling and a trip to the seaside town of Scheveningen. In addition, Saskia occasionally drops by to support Rosa in the brave new world of digital communication – helping her send a WhatsApp message with her new smartphone, for example. Saskia came in just too late for another ‘troublemaker’, Rosa’s computer. Rosa: “It has crashed for good. Dead as a doornail. Muerte.”
Today, Saskia has picked the destination: Erasmus MC, her main beat as a medical student and a place she knows like the back of her hand. For Rosa, this is unknown territory: “I always tear past this place on my scooter when I’m heading over to the World Museum.” After a cup of coffee in the lunchroom, the two head over to the education centre, which can count on Rosa’s approval. “The roof! What a lovely sight. And they even put up art. I’m glad to have contributed to this place with my taxpayers’ money.” After this, Saskia and Rosa pay a short visit to the Park near the Euromast: Saskia on her bike, Rosa behind the wheel of her mobility scooter. At the end of the afternoon they say goodbye, off to lead their own – and markedly different – lives.
Compliments and appreciation
According to Saskia, she learns a lot by seeing the world through Rosa’s eyes. For example, Rotterdam turns out to be incredibly inaccessible for people driving a mobility scooter. Even accessing the first floor of the education centre proves a hassle for Rosa’s vehicle. “People always assume no one’s disabled,” she says with a sigh. And thanks to Rosa, Saskia now knows there are only 32 places in Rotterdam with a public toilet that admits scooters. “As a student, you tend to be completely unaware of issues like this.”
In addition, Saskia is always learning from her elderly companion how to put things in perspective – regardless of how bad you feel inside. For example, after Rosa has some trouble navigating towards her spot in the EMC lunchroom, she has a laugh at her own expense: “Never go out with a cripple, because it takes you six months to get anywhere.” And Rosa showers ‘her’ student with compliments and appreciation: “I think it’s very sweet of Sas to do this. I mean, my own daughter doesn’t even make this kind of effort.”
Saskia heard about the foundation through a fellow student in her rotation group. “During my rotations, I meet a lot of lonely people. This is a problem in our society: older people who have no one left to talk with.” Rosa learned about the foundation from an article in the paper. “I may act as if I never feel lonely, but I do, actually. I used to have an excuse for staying cooped up indoors, because I could talk to my cat. But now, I would actually be talking to the furniture. So Saskia really came in the nick of time.”
On the platform, Saskia described herself as a medical student who would enjoy drinking a cup of coffee with a senior citizen and doing fun things like visiting a museum and cooking. She also indicated that she is allergic to gluten. “The first time I came by, Rosa had gotten gluten-free biscuits from the shop for me. I thought that was really sweet of her.” And it didn’t stay at that one time. Today, for example, Rosa has saved a recipe for Saskia from the Allerhande: gluten-free pasta.
One in a million
According to the medical student, her contacts with Rosa enrich her life. “I wanted to do volunteer work for some time already, so that I could contribute to society in some way. And this allows me to really develop a close relationship with someone.” For example, Rosa tells her about what the world used to look like. It doesn’t take them long to name their best outing so far. Rosa: “We had breakfast at the Hilton one time! That was fun.” Saskia nods in agreement.
Saskia’s fellow students think it’s very nice that she works as a volunteer. “But a lot of people in my circle say they don’t have time for this kind of thing. What’s more, many fellow students prefer to go to their own grandparents.” So why is it that Saskia, who also has grandparents of her own, does find the time to do volunteer work? Rosa says it’s simple: “She’s smarter than they are.” A smiling Saskia disputes this claim: “It allows me to grow as a human being. And I hope that in the process, I can mean something for Rosa.” Rosa doesn’t hesitate to agree: “You definitely do. You’re one in a million.”
Besides, it’s not as if it takes up loads of time, emphasises Saskia. “The foundation asks you to put in six hours a month.” Nor are the requirements particularly exotic. “You need to enjoy interacting with senior citizens. Apart from that, you can have any kind of profile – after all, there are all sorts of different senior citizens too.” For example, one elderly music lover only wants to spin records, while another pensioner enjoys being read to.
Although Saskia can imagine that the senior member of the pair has more time on his or her hands, and would like to make more appointments than the student. That’s why she has agreed with Rosa to make their contacts as ‘equal’ as possible. For example, the two always confer to check whether a date fits in Saskia’s schedule – to avoid her studies being impacted by her volunteer work. In other words, Rosa takes care not to claim Saskia’s time outright. “And I really like that about you. Because there’s a risk of that happening sometimes. But Rosa never does anything like that.” Rosa agrees: “Don’t underestimate how clingy old people can get. But we were simply matched very well.”
About Stichting SeniorenStudent
Saskia and Rosa were brought in touch with each other through the project ‘Jong + Oud = Goud’ (‘Young + Old = Gold’), organised by Stichting SeniorenStudent. In this project, which currently runs in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht, a senior citizen and a student spend at least 6 hours a month with each other for a minimum of one year. This way, the senior citizen gets help and some pleasant company, and the student a new ‘grandpa’ or ‘grandma’ in his or her student town. The foundation acts as a matchmaker for the different senior citizen-student pairs. The programme costs EUR 5 per month for senior citizens; students are paid EUR 25 per month for expenses.