Seniors in action - It's the people with passion that change the world

 

Seniors in action - spot from towarzystwo inicjatyw twórczych on Vimeo.

 

We all know - from personal experience, that of our friends and families or from the media - the meaning of the fact that people live longer. For years long life seemed the goal. But it brought a number of non-obvious side effects. Old age is too often just illness, loneliness and grief. Experts prepared thousands of reports and indexes to answer the challenges of aging societies.

But we know that the reality of papers and scientific discourse is very distant from our everyday tangible experience. Are we in touch with the seniors of our families? Do we know how to help them when they suffer from depression? Do we know senior citizens actively working for their surroundings and taking care of their health and fitness? Are we ready for our own old age?

Most of our social challenges can be found in the clash between documentation, postulates and our experience, one so very far from them. The program Seniors in action levels this gap using the only solution - giving a growing number of people of different ages the experience of another version of old age: bold, open, turned to the world, joyful and productive. The participants and they closest ones learn to think differently about the potential of the elderly - more positively, because they changed their attitude and stance.

An analysis of contemporary challenges related to old age shows that:

• Medical treatment is not enough for a good life - the list of other important factors comprises social relations, access to services, feeling safe, participation in the life of the community and having influence, within and beyond close family.

An important goal of Seniors in action is creating cross-generational and lasting social bonds.

• We need to rebuild the way in which seniors co-create society and communities and the way they engage in them. Treating old age as unproductive or productive only on a "hobby" level is one of the reasons of the low activity levels among senior citizens. As a community we cannot afford wasting the time and skills of the elderly. And it is not about challenging the elderly with requirements designed for people in their prime. It is rather about building a model of valuable participation in the life of the local community with respect for their competencies.

In Seniors in action senior citizens become coordinators, leaders, managers - they develop their skills and abilities so that their undertakings can bring real change and empowerment. • We have to be very specific in the process of creating projects and interventions as senior citizens are an extremely diversified group (just as adult non-seniors). The fact that they are all over 60 doesn't make their needs similar. Old age doesn't unify us. "Cookie cutter" projects just cannot succeed.

The Association of Creative Initiatives "ę" understands that rigid rules and standardised criteria for accepting projects do not constitute an optimal solution. It is important to stay open to the ideas of singular leaders and flexible in collaboration.

- In order to answer the challenge of old age successfully we need: ingenuity, senior participation and leadership, experience (of senior and non-senior citizens), the courage to think and act outside the box. There are many reasons for which the contemporary world takes confidence and a distinctive voice away from the elderly. Luckily it doesn't deprive them of their wisdom, experience and motivation. Arranged for the young, it simply blocks the use of those resources, gives no opportunities or reasons to do things together. Language differences hinder communication.

The competition Seniors in action gives senior citizens space and teaches them partnership-based communication with young people. It also creates space for experimentation, undertaking new activities, testing solutions.

What and how does Seniors in action do?

From the very beginning, that is for 10 years, the program Seniors in action has been doing precisely what is now recommended in significant reports of expert committees (such as the European Commission, WHO, UN):

• it focuses on the activity of senior citizens (the shift from successful or healthy ageing to active ageing is a key change in approaching the challenges of old age. In our program seniors are authors, experts, active parties and supporters of others, not just people solving their medical problems;

• it encourages them to participate in the life of the community - it show seniors that they are able to mobilise for the sake of others, learn the points of view of different groups, go beyond egoism (which they are often accused of);

• it promotes and supports cross-generational attitudes which is a key idea - the goal isn't to isolate seniors and old age (even in well organised and operating enclaves) but to naturally and fully include them in society.

• it teaches young and old participants to translate and understand their languages, notions, priorities and perspectives;

• it activates local resources - authentic, grassroots activities undertaken in these projects activate connections between different people and their potentials, which is one of the indicators of building social capital;

• it facilitates better understanding of the elderly, getting accustomed to old age, it shows ways to build relationships based on respect;

• it empowers seniors - activities change local realities, seniors become leaders, they perform specific actions, support other groups - that experience is huge capital.

Gradual dismantling of a stereotype

Seniors in action - through its reach measured in the number of project, participants, partners, broadcasts and articles in the media - gradually dismantles the wrongful stereotype: of a senior causing problems, grumbling, focused only on his or her illnesses.

A stereotype is a double-edged sword - used by those stigmatised (in the way they think about themselves) and those who stigmatise. That is precisely why it’s so overwhelming and difficult to overcome. The only thing that can be done - effectively, not just in the realm of declarations – is to give opportunities to see oneself from a different point of view, outside the stereotype, in another role, in a different context. That is the theme of the program Seniors in action, composed of hundreds of small projects – it is about the patient and consistent process of turning the way we think about old age. This is the groundwork for facing all other challenges of old age: new medical care, prevention, independence of senior citizens, their professional work and life quality.

Flexible approach

Seniors in action is also a good example of how the Association of Creative Initiatives "ę" changes the very mechanism and the rules of subsidy-based projects. Many grant programs are inherently suspicious, rigid, full of red tape and focused on mistakes. That makes them unable to support innovation and innovators in the long run. The Association of Creative Initiatives "ę" questions many commonplace methods of social activities. It takes great care of coordinators and offers them support - it is willing to risk and invest in unique projects even when they are difficult to classify. It is open to changes occurring in the execution phase of projects. This approach makes it way easier to expect fresh activities, projects unseen before. At the same time it makes disarming stereotypes much easier.

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At the Association of Creative Initiatives "ę" we have been running social and cultural projects all around Poland since 2002. We work with young people, senior citizens, cultural animators, NGO and community centres employees, teachers and artists. We inspire to action. We pass on the knowledge and tools necessary to run one's own social project. Since 2008 we have been running an all-Poland program Seniors in action (incubator&subsidies) funded by the Polish-American Freedom Foundation. Until now we have supported almost 300 local projects organised by leaders aged 60+ and cross-generational pairs (60+ and 35). We collaborate with the community of Universities of the Third Age (UTA) - we organise workshops for UTA leaders and students, we support the integration of UTAs on a regional level, we help to establish senior volunteer groups within UTAs. In 2012 we organised an all-Poland study - ZOOM in Universities of the Third Age. We came up with a number of very precious insights e.g. about the needs and challenges that UTA leaders face. We collaborate with senior councils and local authorities in the program Zoom in Senior Councils. We have a network of cultural animators located across the country, we have reliable partners, experience and skills that enable us to experiment, set new trends and implement bold projects.