The ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic has a devastating impact on society. One of the key challenges that is a result of the global pandemic we are currently facing is widespread social isolation and loneliness. Social isolation and loneliness are crucial risk factors that have been associated with poor physical and mental health.

The ongoing health crisis has an impact on everyone’s lives, but some vulnerable groups are hit the hardest. Protecting those who are most vulnerable in society has therefore become even more important and urgent.

One of the groups most adversely affected are the elderly people in Dutch society. Recent articles published by a number of Dutch news media indicated that elderly people suffer mentally disproportionally more from the Covid-19 measures put in place by the government. Older adults are the most vulnerable to suffering from health complications due to Covid-19. For this reason, especially elderly people are advised to self-quarantine and shut themselves off as much as possible from friends, family, and the places that kept them active and engaged. Family members do not feel comfortable to visit and social outings are called off. As a result of this, their social interaction is severely limited.

The social distancing rules that are currently in place are expected to remain for quite some time. As a result of this we predict people to continue to be isolated, disengaged, inactive throughout the coming months. They are isolated, their problems are growing, and their hope for a better future is fading away. In conclusion, the current safety guidelines that are protecting older adults from Covid-19 are simultaneously creating new health risks by leaving many elderly people socially isolated and lonely.

Meanwhile refugees risk becoming a second victim due to circumstances beyond their control. After suffering persecution in their country of origin, aspiring refugees encounter serious problems integrating into Dutch society as unemployment levels rise and prospects to find a suitable job have decreased dramatically. United Way the Netherlands, together with its partners, is determined to do something about this pressing societal problem.

The program

In line with its global mandate, United Way the Netherlands seeks to unite parties to enhance effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of projects and programmes. To this effect, it anticipates working together with top performing NGOs with an established reputation and track record in the Netherlands including:

  • Humanitas

  • Edu4U

  • Help Digitaal

  • Allemaal Digitaal

With our elderly and refugee program, we aim to help two groups who are currently living on the margins of society: elderly and refugees. Our goal is to help elderly people in society who feel isolated and disengaged while also helping refugees with access to education and an enhanced understanding of Dutch society. Our approach is to help both groups in finding a durable solution that addresses the problems they are presently facing.

Participating refugees will see their integration chances into Dutch society improve. Moreover, it gives them a sense of pride and self-respect as they contribute towards building a just Dutch Society. Finally, refugees will gain subsidised access to part time educational programmes of their choice. The personal contact with the elderly furthermore gives them an insight into values and practice common within Dutch society.

Elderly people will receive the help they need to battle their loneliness. Through our program elderly people will be supported in seeking out social connection, developing community-based networks, and teaching elderly people basic skills needed to navigate the technology available to socially interact.

In this program, participants are carefully matched with refugees and/or regular volunteers by a local professional coordinator based on an intake in which expectations and circumstances of the individuals are considered. The refugee and/or regular volunteer and the participant are expected to meet at least once a week, based on goals determined by the participant. Besides this personal contact, the refugee will encourage and help the participant to seek out other forms of social interaction. This is done by helping the participant build up confidence to leave their home and join a community centre or social club. This way the participant is supported to work towards their personal goals and feel confident enough to build on personal relations without the help of a volunteer in the long run. In first instance, we expect that regular volunteers will form the majority supporting participants, but overtime, we anticipate that one in every four volunteers have a refugee background.

Subject to availability of funds, we expect this project to scale up towards a target goal of 100 elderly beneficiaries. The duration of the program is 18 months, after which the participant is expected to continue independently. Our goal is that the participants learn to become self-reliant and build up the confidence to independently manage the challenges they are confronted with on a daily basis.

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