Older citizens and migrants to the European Union want to be involved and contribute to community life with their diverse skills, ideas and lived experiences. This is the main message to emerge from a participative project carried out with older people living in Ireland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Spain, and migrants of all ages from China, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Morocco, the Caribbean, Surinam and Somalia.
They were brought together by four organisations who work with older people in Ireland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Spain, as part of the Get Engaged for Europe project, funded by the Europe for Citizens programme.
The project began with the Irish partner organisation, Age & Opportunity, developing a train the trainer course to share their expertise and knowledge in training for civic engagement among older people. Having completed this training the other partners Bulgarian Red Cross, Gouden Dagen in the Netherlands and Fundacion Albihar in Spain, set about engaging older people of all cultures and reaching out to younger migrants in their communities.
Forty people took part in the workshops facilitated by Fundación Albihar, including three people who had recently arrived in Granada: Yadima Morales and Livays Alvarado from Cuba, and Edith López from Bolivia. Until they participated in Get Engaged for Europe they struggled to make social connections in the city. Along with other migrants from Latin America they joined with Spanish citizens to explore subjects such as citizen participation, ageing and discrimination. Together they came up with a group activity to encourage integration – the creation of an intercultural and intergenerational tourist route through the historic city centre which they called ‘Walking among Granada’. They walked it together on the last day of the course. Yadima, Livays and Edith, in particular, felt useful in their roles of co-designers of the route, and thus more integrated in the city. The friendships they made on the course continue.
Get Engaged for Europe partner Gouden Dagen organised a series of gatherings in Utrecht and Rotterdam with older migrants from Turkey, Morocco, China and the Caribbean, including Surinam. Over 50 participants in total came together to enjoy a communal meal and to discuss the positives and negatives of their lives in the Netherlands. Through discussion they came to realise that they had much in common, with their needs being shared needs. While they tried to focus on the positives of both their culture and Dutch culture they had shared challenges. These include the fact that private Dutch homes are not designed to cater for extended family living, linguistic barriers, struggles with digital technology and the lack of meeting points to gather for chat, cooking and vegetable growing. Loneliness, poverty and discrimination, especially for old women wearing headscarves, are prevalent as is a sense of isolation.
However older migrants are generally happy about the possibilities, freedom, and tolerance in the Netherlands. They are curious about the European Union and keen to learn about it and to learn new skills. The lack of educational courses and supports in their mother tongues were identified as a key barrier to integration.
Trainers from the Bulgarian Red Cross facilitated four events with 60 older people from Bulgaria and migrants both young and old from Syria, Iraq and Palestine.
Based on evaluation forms provided in Bulgarian, Arabic, English and Farsi, participants said they benefitted from the trainings through meeting new people and changing their perspective on ageing. They felt motivated and believed more in themselves. They also said they would implement a community project together.
One training brought together refugees and Bulgarians in the municipality of Harmanli in the Hasskovo region, where the largest refugee camp in Bulgaria is found. The first three days consisted of workshops with presentations and group work. On the final day all participants joined on a trip to a local archaeological site, Mezzek. They had an opportunity to exchange views on the trainings and to discuss the ideas that both groups had for future civil engagement projects and initiatives. They shared their different cultures with discussions about art, history and food.
Almost 60 mostly older Irish people joined active citizenship workshops run by Age & Opportunity in four locations. They focussed on exploring positive ageing, team-building, collaboration, and selecting, planning and designing a project which could be piloted in their local community.
In Dublin eight people of different ages from Ireland and Somalia came together for four sessions, focussing on team building and exploring what they could change in their community. They decided to set up a project entitled ‘Building Bridges’ aimed at better multicultural integration and understanding. Together they discussed the similarities and differences between Ireland and Somalia in terms of culture, food, society, politics, democracy and voting systems, as well as sharing some Irish and Somalian snacks.
A number of proposals came out of the group’s time together including an idea to start a regular board-gaming hour as a way of bringing people together. Perhaps the most tangible outcome of the workshops was that one Somalian woman’s wish for a sewing machine came true. A staff member at the centre had one lying idle in their attic and was happy to donate it. Her plan is to help young Somalian women to repair their and their children’s clothes whilst chatting and telling them about English classes and other services that are available.
Civic engagement benefits us all
The diverse collaborative and participative work of Get Engage for Europe partners with older people from Bulgaria, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain and with migrants of all ages from many countries demonstrates clearly that active civic engagement by older people of all cultures benefits us all. In the words of one participant from Bulgaria: “Older people should not stop dreaming.”
Get Engaged/Touchstone for Europe was funded by the Europe for Citizens programme.
For more detailed information about the project please see here.