December 5th was the World Volunteer Day, celebrating commitment at all ages. The health crisis has pushed many young people to volunteer for different causes… But what about their representations on aging?
How do young people view aging?
This is what a recent study by CSA and Domitys attempted to find out. The study focuses on how young people (aged 16 to 24) view seniors and aging in France. Contrary to what one might think, while aging may frighten a majority of the young people surveyed, most of them would like to live a long time: in fact, 71% of the young people surveyed would like to live beyond the age of 90.
It is interesting to note that in the list of battles that young people would like to see fought concerning the elderly, the fight against isolation comes first (59%), followed by the importance of ensuring a decent income for all seniors (53%) and improving health care and medical research to find treatments for age-related diseases (50%).
We can also note that most of the young people questioned consider that they do not have the same ideals as seniors (70%), and 64% believe that there is a gap in France between the young and the seniors.
So how can we bridge this gap?
Strengthening intergenerational links is essential to aspire to a society where the elderly are taken into consideration and are not left behind, and a society where young people feel valued and find their place. And this starts with a better understanding between the different generations, which implies meeting each other and having opportunities to really rub shoulders, beyond the simple family circle.
The French organization Petits Frères des Pauvres has understood this and that is why it develops projects that promote the meeting of generations. For example, since 2015, it has sent 35 young people on Civic Service missions to organizations of the International Federation in Ireland, the United States and Mexico. For a year, the young people participate in the organization’s activities, visit elderly people every week, build special relationships with them, provide support for new projects… On the other hand, the organization welcomes young Europeans in France for one-year missions thanks to the European Solidarity Corps.
The European Solidarity Corps is a program of the European Union that allows any young European between 18 and 30 years old to commit to a non-profit organization in another country for several months, to participate in building a more inclusive society, to help the most vulnerable and to address societal challenges.
These missions offer young people between the ages of 18 and 30 the opportunity to experience a commitment to solidarity and to emerge from the experience with pride in having contributed to the fight against the isolation of seniors.
“I never imagined I would be able to be friends with people much older than me! Everything was much better than I imagined. This has been the most rewarding time of my life” (Hakan, Turkish volunteer in France)
“I dream that many other young people could live the same experience as me! I talk about it all the time around me. It was the best period of my life, in terms of experience, self-knowledge, relationships I was able to make!” (Andreea, Romanian volunteer in France)
They allow them to discover another culture but also to make their own culture known. It is always a determining experience for them, which allows them to develop many skills, to gain confidence and, very often, to see their future more clearly, as Paula, a Spanish volunteer in France, testifies: “After this volunteer work, I started a Master’s degree in International Protection of Human Rights and I am currently doing my end-of-master’s work on the mistreatment of the elderly in public institutions. So, you could say that my volunteering at Les Petits frères des Pauvres has touched me a lot.”
In return, the presence of the volunteers brings real added value to the teams that welcome them, as well as to the elderly people accompanied by these teams, as these recent testimonies show:
“The young volunteers have given me hope for a better life with people who are more united.” (Elderly person)
“Their presence attracts younger volunteers to the team. The volunteers and the people they support discover a new culture, a new language… It breaks down many clichés about foreigners“. (Volunteer)
The elders value the fact that a young person comes from so far away to spend time with them, it creates relationships of a particular intensity. This is what the elderly people interviewed by the association said after the departure of the European volunteers:
“I really appreciated their open-mindedness, our discussions about their country, their cuisine...”
“They brought me friendship, we were like two friends.”
“Their visits lifted my spirits. I think it’s very good and it should be developed.”
And you, are you ready to get involved and create beautiful intergenerational friendships?