International Youth Day 2022: Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a World for All Ages

Posted: 12 August 2022

To mark International Youth Day, whose theme this year is intergenerational solidarity, Round Square is celebrating the many creative ways in which students across the network connect with, and support, those from older generations in their community, and encouraging more students to do the same.

“Not only do these connections offer support to the elderly members of our societies, but they also enable young students to learn from the wisdom and experience of older generations,” says Round Square’s Chief Executive Rachael Westgarth. “When students reach out in friendship, and genuinely connect with their elders, it builds community, breaks down barriers, generates mutual respect, and promotes integration which makes for a stronger society”.

Round Square themes focus on character-building, which makes them accessible to all ages, creating a meeting point where the young can genuinely learn from the older members of their community. For example, in considering what it means to be compassionate, or courageous, or inventive, there is much to learn from discovering one another’s different experiences, or similar perspectives, shared across generations.

Students at AKS Lytham, in the North West of England, made this discovery through their Bring Me Sunshine programme. This student-led initiative was created as a means of bringing the community together in their seaside town, which has a large retired and elderly population, to break down stereotypes and bring generations closer. The aim was to build bridges, connect the community, and dispel the myth that all teenagers are “very scary and threatening.”

Bring Me Sunshine started several years ago, with initial student visits to spend time with residents in care homes for the elderly, creating relationships, and building trust. The students learned from these interactions that many of the residents were lonely, having lost loved ones, or with family living far away. From these visits the students went on to host coffee mornings in school, which led to popcorn-fuelled movie days, costumes for Halloween, quiz afternoons, dance and keep-fit classes, and much, much more.

As the then-student founder of Bring Me Sunshine, now an alum of AKS Lytham, Molly Turpie explains: “We tried to think of more fun activities because everyone likes to have fun. You know, it doesn’t matter how old you are. Everyone likes to do like silly things!”

Perhaps the unapologetic focus on silliness and having fun is one of the keys to the success of this campaign, which ultimately saw the whole school get involved, and is still going from strength to strength today. As Molly says: “The most important thing is that it wasn’t like ‘we are teenagers,’ and ‘you are the old people.’ In fact, we sort of just forgot.”

Another initiative to match schools to care homes, and establish penpal connections between students and residents, was created during the pandemic by Nina Andersen, a student from Latymer Upper School in London. Prior to the pandemic, Nina had been visiting care homes to offer musical entertainment, but this had to be abandoned when lockdown hit, and so Nina started thinking of other ways to make human connections between students and elderly residents.

Through letter-writing, her Community Senior Letters campaign aims to combat feelings of isolation, and ongoing issues of loneliness, exacerbated by COVID-19. As a result of the initiative, which has connected more than 250 schools with care homes, Nina was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2022 New Year Honours List for a ‘hands-on’ service to the local community.

Both the Bring Me Sunshine programme and the Community Senior Letters initiative, offer great examples of good practice to inspire students in schools around the world. In both cases the starting point was to make purposeful connections with care homes, and make visits to meet, and interact with, the elderly residents. As students across the RS network have learnt-by-doing, the most successful relationships are built around a shared passion or common ground. For example, students at VDJS in India have been visiting care homes to join residents in celebration of their birthdays, and at Modern School Barakhamba Road, New Delhi, students spend time with elderly care home residents, playing games, storytelling, dancing and singing songs.

Ms Shalini Dahiya, Asst Head Co-curricular at Modern School, who coordinates and supports the students’ care home visits says, “youngsters learn humility, stoicism and integrity from these beautiful meetings. The cycle of life completes itself only when human life is dignified at every age.”

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