Now that elderly people living at care homes are no longer allowed to receive visitors, they are rather isolated from the outside world. The Koetjes en Kalfjes platform seeks to change that situation. Through their platform, students Leonoor Wismans and Rosalie Swart hook students and adults with jobs up with lonely elderly people. The ‘calves’ will then call their ‘cows’ two or three times per week to indulge in some small talk (This is where the platform got its name. The Dutch phrase for ‘small talk’ literally translates as ‘little cows and little calves’ – ed.).
Leonoor, one of the platform’s founders, thought it was heart-breaking to see how elderly people’s days out were cancelled, one by one. “My mother works at Stichting De Zonnebloem (an organisation that organises days out for disabled people – ed.) and had to cancel everything,” Leonoor, who is doing a Master’s in medicine, tells us. “Now many lonely elderly people will be cooped up inside for a while. While at the same time, many pupils, students and people with jobs will be at home.”
A friend of Leonoor’s, Rosalie Swart, saw the same thing happening. She is a law student in Amsterdam and used to do some volunteering in elderly care. Together the two friends came up with the idea of Koetjes en Kalfjes. “We created the website and the social media in one evening. We had no idea what we were doing with either, so it was quite the challenge.”
By now the platform has some 1,700 calves and 100 cows, and those numbers are going up fast. “One day after we’d established the whole thing, we were featured by NU.nl. We also appeared on a show on RTL Z and we were interviewed by AD and several other newspapers,” Leonoor proudly tells us.
“We grew like weeds within the space of a week. First all our sign-ups were processed by e-mail. That was OK, because at the time, we mainly got our cows by means of word of mouth. For instance, we had a friend who knew someone in a healthcare institution and she’d hang up some flyers there. But now we are increasingly talking to the homes’ umbrella organisations, meaning we can reach a lot of healthcare institutions at the same time. So our friends and family are helping us out now. As a result, we now have a bit more time to make sure that everything is organised a little more smoothly.”
Basically Tinder for the elderly and students
Leonoor believes the platform’s strength is the fact that cows and calves are linked by a person rather than an algorithm. “We think it’s important that the cows and calves have genuine rapport. In addition to the place where they live, we look at the nature of their degree programmes and other interests. We look at what kind of person we’re dealing with, and what this person wants or needs.” Leonoor says that matching people who live in the same town has an added bonus, in that the calves may be able to help the cows in more practical ways. “For example, the cows can buy groceries and pick up medications for their cows, if they feel like it. Obviously, there’s no obligation to do so.”
They are getting a lot of enthusiastic responses. Leonoor’s favourite success story is the one about a cow and calf who were both interested in Indonesian history. “They really enjoyed talking about that. They both loved it. We were so happy to see that.” Another example of a successful match was the one between a theology student and a retired theologist. “They had such good rapport. It’s a very particular field of study, so finding that match meant a lot to us.”
They hope the platform will continue to exist once the coronavirus pandemic is over. “Each call only takes up fifteen to thirty minutes of the participants’ time. Everyone has that amount of time to spare. We can tell that the elderly people tremendously appreciate the fact that someone is making a bit of an effort to talk to them.”