VOLUNTEERING makes senior citizens more active and doing so helps them feel useful and important to society.
“Seniors feel they still have something to give to others, that people still need them,” Alžbeta Mračková of the C.A.R.D.O. civic association – which has the mission of developing more volunteer activities in Slovakia – told the TASR newswire. “Volunteering is the right step in having an active older age.”
Within the ‘Think Future, Volunteer Together’ project more than one hundred seniors took part in two-week exchange visits in five over the past two years in which they met other volunteers from more than 60 foreign organisations to share experiences, discuss ways to support of active ageing, and foster seniors’ active participation in community life.
“The basic goal of the project in the years from 2007 to 2009 was to involve people over 55 in active participation in the life of society through volunteer events,” Mračková said, adding that 22 senior volunteers, both men and women from Slovakia, engaged in volunteer activities with organisations abroad that were helping children in hospitals, homeless, and handicapped people and they also learned about the kinds of projects in these foreign countries that make the lives of seniors easier.
According to Mračková, seniors brought home to Slovakia many inspirational and exceptional examples of how to further develop volunteering here. Milan, a 69-year-old volunteer from the Trenčín hospice who visited Slovenia, was impressed by the way that worn but still usable clothing for the homeless and socially-disadvantaged families was distributed. The clothing is sorted by volunteers and after being cleaned and repaired, it is warehoused for distribution to those who are in need.
Ľubica, age 65, has been an activist on issues of protecting older people and advocating for their needs as part of her volunteer activities for six years and learned more about ways to improve the quality of life of older people, especially how to build their activity and self-confidence, during a visit to Italy.
Štefan, age 71, who has focused his volunteer work on educational activities in the sphere of gardening, viticulture, health, sports and environmental issues, very much appreciated the Italian government’s social policy orientation that has the motto: “Seniors are not a burden for society, but rather a precious source of information.” After his return to Slovakia he enhanced his volunteering activities in building cooperation between younger and older citizens, in pursuing better legal rights for seniors and by demonstrating the principles of bio-architecture.
Between May 2008 and March 2009 the project invited groups of volunteer seniors from four countries to Slovakia – from Hungary, Italy, Romania and Slovenia. In two week periods they worked in a dozen different Slovak partner organisations.
“The programme of exchange of volunteer seniors was a part of the European project called Experiences of Seniors in Europe,” said Mračková. “Because of these exchanges, new activities on the local level have developed, and moreover, the exchanges contributed to better information in the sphere of volunteering by seniors in central and eastern Europe.”
The Think Future, Volunteer Together project is financed by the European Union and multiple Slovak volunteer organisations have participated in various parts of the project.
Practical results of the project, according to Mračková, include answers to questions like how to organise senior volunteer exchanges, preparing documents for recommendations for institutions working in the development of social policy, and ways to find financial support for activities of volunteer seniors.
“If we consider that Europe will be ageing in the future, we must think of ways to support active citizenship by seniors in all of Europe’s countries and in all spheres of life,” Mračková concluded.