Take a walk with the elderly (and learn Dutch at the same time)

Why not start with taking a walk with the elderly? Go outdoors, take them for a spin, enjoy Spring and learn Dutch at the same time.


The 'walk with the elderly' event is a monthly event organised by ESN-Rotterdam. Sofia Angeloni is one of the students in these pictures. Asking her why she participated, she answered: "I think that sharing our energy, passion and eager of doing with who (because of physical problems or age) can’t do the most of the things they want to, is a gesture of deep utility and value for the society. This can happen with children, elderly and anyone whose day can improve just with a smile of a honest person who is willing to spend some of their time with them.


I saw the announcement of the activity held by ESN on Facebook and I thought it was a good occasion to apply in practice my thoughts.

We reached the nursing home at Verpleeghuis Pniël, Oudedijk, where we met the manager of the place and the guys from ESN. After a brief introduction, we took scarfs, gloves, hats, blankets and all the necessary to keep our “walking-mates” warm and went to meet them. Before the activity, my main fear was their behavior towards us, since someone could have been not interested in spending time with young people they didn’t know and whose the majority can’t even speak Dutch. What is more, our activity could have been perceived as an intrusion on their routine. But luckily, the ones we met were open-minded people and seemed quite glad to take a well-deserved break. The first contact with them was when we prepared and dress them up with warm clothes and even if it can appear weird, the idea scared me at the beginning. How can I approach a old person that I don’t know and with who I can’t speak? How can I avoid my behaviours to be seen as disrespectful?


So, when Anna Marie assigned me my person, I tried first to communicate with gesture and expression, and I can say it kind of worked, luckily! Then the walk began and it was just amazing seeing how they were happy of being outside. Mevrouw Molenkamp, my mate, showed me all the houses of the neighbourhood and told me some stories about that. Then we went through the park, along the lake and at that point, I had the pleasure to attend some “Dutch for beginners” lessons by Ily! I repeated the words and she gave me some advices and correction about my pronunciation. It was absolutely fun!


The walk took about half an hour, which is the right duration, because they get tired easily, in fact at the end of the walk, Ily was a little annoyed by the cold and particularly because the road was ruined and passing through it hurt her. But a tasteful juice and her favourite desert was enough to bring the smile back on her face! In fact when we came back to the nursing house, we all had a rest together and that was the best part: she showed us her room with a wonderful view and was very happy to take a picture with me and an other guy from Spain. She also make me take a ride on the wheelchair, because I was walking for a while and I deserved it!! After some more chat where we communicate thanks to the translation made by Dutch guys, the moment of saying good-bye arrived and she was so sweet, even calling me “sweetheart” and saying that we were already close friends. That filled my heart with joy, because I felt the same!


Coming back home I thought that even if it was a very simple gesture, that took just few hours of my time, it made me feel “full” and proud, a different sentiment from the one you feel when you get a high grade or a recognition in the work environment. It was more “pure” because it was absolutely spontaneous and free, with theoretically nothing back.

Actually we got a lot back: new friends and the reflection that if you can get someone’s day better just having a walk with them, guess what could you do with a more engagement on volunteering activity. Last, it can help you dealing with different, not predictable events and problems that you could face meeting new people who, without any doubts, do live difficult situations. I am aware that I was lucky meeting Ily, but there could be times when they are more tired or simply don’t want to take part to the activity. That’s why it could be challenging and you can always learn something. I thank again the organisation who gave me this opportunity to meet Ily and her friends and particularly to learn important lesson about taking care of the others."

Marieke Oomen: “ESN-Rotterdam started a SocialErasmus committee in the beginning of 2017. We hope to encourage (international) students to actively participate in the Dutch society by doing voluntary work and participating in activities that raise awareness for certain social issues. The language barrier is also why a lot of people were skeptical about this event at first, but I am very happy we tried it nonetheless. With a few words of Dutch and English, sometimes even German, French and Spanish, you come a long way. And even when a full conversation isn't possible, the students can still talk to each other and enjoy a beautiful walk.”

More information

More information: https://socialerasmus.esn.org/