Elderly Emiratis during an International Day for the Elderly programme in Dubai. Picture for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: In an effort to make senior residents more active and get involved within the community, the Authority for Social Contribution — Ma’an — on Wednesday announced its Journey of Generations programme, which will see those aged between 60 and 70 years old spending time with youth volunteers. The initiative will launch in September at Yas Mall before moving to other community spaces in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Dhafra.

The programme has received enthusiastic support from the community according to organisers, with 30 senior residents signing up along with 50 youth volunteers, aged 18 and above. The pilot phase of the programme will first start with senior Emirati citizens and will then be extended to senior residents of all nationalities once the programme is expanded.

“Our first project from the Community Engagement Programme will focus on supporting the needs of community seniors, celebrating their contribution to society and fostering friendship and knowledge transfer between the generations,” said Salama Al Ameemi, director-general of Ma’an.

“This focus demonstrates the importance we place on the treasured role of community seniors within our society. It also has the added benefit of encouraging active and healthy lifestyles in our senior citizens and our volunteers,” she added.

Al Ameemi said the authority decided to launch this initiative as their first project based on the results of the better life index survey that was carried out last year, which found that senior citizens came second in loneliness among all resident category groups.

“After the people of determination, they came second in feeling lonely and depressed … so that made us focus on the elderly group.

“[These results] may have seemed strange in a society like ours because we have big extended families and are supposed to be sticking to each other, yet with the lifestyle now of long hours [at work] and going back home around midday means [the elderly] are sitting all the time alone [in the house] and not feeling that they are contributing to society,” she added.

Al Ameemi said the locations for the meet ups would expand after the pilot phase, with a shopping mall selected for now due to the weather.

“[We] started at the mall specifically now because of the weather — the shopping mall themselves wanted to contribute, they wanted to provide the space as part of their social contribution.

“In winter … [we will] use the parks and [have more] outdoor activities rather than indoor activities,” she added.

Maysa Al Nowais, the community engagement director at Ma’an, explained that the organisation was looking to create strong relationships through the programme, and would pair senior citizens with youth volunteers who shared the same interests.

“If we have a senior citizen that’s interested in photography and we have a volunteer that we know is also interested in the same thing [we will put them together].

“We will try as much as we can to bring them together according to certain hobbies or certain things that they have in common so they can have things to talk about,” she added.

Al Nowais said the volunteers would also be trained before meeting with the seniors. “The week before the pilot launch we’re calling all volunteers to take them through with how to talk to seniors, what they should and shouldn’t do, what to focus on and how to build a relationship with them that is long term.”