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Students in a Zoom call with elderly persons in India. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: They have never met but call each other ‘grandpa’ or ‘my child’. The emotional scenes take place during Zoom calls between students of a Dubai school and elderly people in India abandoned by their families.

It all began when Asmi Choudhary, a grade 11 student of GEMS Modern Academy, was left “infuriated” after seeing online a case about a man who had abused his parents, who eventually found safety at The Earth Saviours Foundation established by social worker Ravi Kalra in Gurgaon, a city in north India.

Asmi Choudhary

Determined to make a difference in their lives by lending emotional and moral support, Asmi founded the ‘Adopt a Grandparent’ initiative at her school earlier this year. Since last month, around 165 students from grades nine to 12 have made some 330 Zoom calls with hundreds of senior citizens at the foundation. They have also donated around Rs71,460 (around Dh3,570) so far to the foundation so its people can get medical help or meals, among other needs.

“Adopt a Grandparent aims at supporting someone’s life not only financially but also emotionally,” Asmi said. Once a student signs up, one of the “core team” of six pupils managing the initiative sends him or her a Zoom link on Friday or Saturday when they are off school. The students are then placed into virtual breakout rooms with the ‘grandparents’ for conversations lasting 10 to 15 minutes or longer.

‘They have cried’

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Clockwise from top left : Almas Sutterwala, Muhammed Hafesjee, Asmi Choudhary, Shudhit Arora, Lavya Gurnani and Siddhant Punamiya - the core team that manages the Adopt a Grandparent initiative. Image Credit: Supplied

“The grandparents have been so touched, they have sometimes cried saying it feels like it’s their own child who wants to talk to them again. They have invited us to virtually join their birthday parties and asked us to come visit them in real life when the [COVID-19 crisis] gets better, if possible,” Asmi said.

How it works
On an individual level, each student commits just 10 to 15 minutes of his or her time for a monthly Zoom call on a weekend. The student who signs up for the initiative also makes a one-time donation of Dh23. Every week, collectively students from one grade take part, followed by the next grade the following week, and so on. The next month, the cycle continues, starting with grade nine and ending with grade 12. The “beautiful conversations” take place in various languages such as Hindi, English, Malayalam, Tamil, Marathi, and Bengali. The set-up is arranged in such a way that a grandparent speaks with more than one student each weekend for a total of an hour or so.

What do they talk about?

“Our conversations range from ‘what did you eat for breakfast today’ to ‘what animal would you like to become if you had the choice’. Recently, when our school principal [Nargish Khambatta] spoke to them, she learnt about a new recipe. We learn about their hobbies; we sing for them. We ask them about their favourite season; their childhood memories. They love calling us ‘beta’ [my child] whereas we call them ‘dada’ or ‘dadi’ [grandparents]. We’ve made a rule that we avoid topics which would lead to them speaking about why they had to come to the foundation.”