Students going the extra mile

Students demystify computers for seniors

FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook: for many older people, it’s like a secret language. In the initiative by Enactus Maastricht, students help seniors find their way around the multimedia world. In turn, the students get to practise their Dutch – a win-win situation.

Spread around the tables in the Wittevrouwenveld community centre are half a dozen small groups of people, huddled over laptops or smartphones. For three euros, senior citizens get to spend two hours firing all their technology-related questions at the student tutors. Ger (72) has been trying to create an account on a website so that he can look for cycling buddy. It’s not so easy. He needs a password for the website, which is activated by email. But that means setting up an email account as well, which requires another password. “At home I use email and internet banking”, Ger says. “But I can’t do this on my own. I would have given up, or made a total mess of it.”

Fortunately, International Business student Jasper ter Borg is here to help. He advises Ger to use a stronger password, installs an email program and shows him how to use copy and paste, “one of the best things about computers”. Ger looks on patiently and writes all the steps down, so as not to forget anything. Not only does he learn a lot, but he enjoys the social contact too. The same goes for Jasper, a member of the project team who has been volunteering from the outset. “In the beginning they needed tutors. I stayed on, because I see that it really helps people.”

Students demystify computers for seniors
Meyke Houben

Great stories

At another table Annie (60) and Psychology student Corinna Schulz are deep in conversation. Annie is receiving instructions about the various functions of her new smartphone in an endearing blend of Dutch and German. “I read about the project in Markant, the free local paper. I was surprised it existed. And happy, because there’s no one in my direct environment who can help solve all my little problems with the phone. Corinna is very good; she’s told me lots of things I didn’t know. And it’s given me a more positive view of students. I always thought students were impatient, have to do everything quickly. But fortunately there are exceptions.”

Corinna registered as a volunteer in order to pick up the language. “My contact with Maastricht locals was limited to the supermarket and the project Serve the City. I was keen to branch out, otherwise you don’t feel as though you really live here. At I found what I was looking for. Older people often have great stories to tell. I enjoy being able to help them with their computer or telephone. For us they can be tiny issues, but for them it’s really important. And we speak in a mixture of Dutch, German and English, so I learn from it as well.”

Second location

Improving their Dutch is an important motivation for many volunteers, says the French-speaking Julien Vandecaasbeek, vice president of Enactus Maastricht. “In principle the language of instruction is Dutch, but some of the seniors speak German too. It can be hard for international students to practise the language, because people tend to speak to them in English and they don’t have much contact with the locals.” is, according to Vandecaasbeek, one of the most successful projects of Enactus, which aims to strengthen the contact between Maastricht students and residents. “Since the project was launched in February 2016 we’ve been able to help around 30 seniors. And there’s a lot of interest. So in September we’re opening a second location in De Boeckel community centre in De Heeg. Everyone is welcome; you can just walk in. The nice thing about this project is that both parties learn from it. The seniors get a better image of students, and the students give something back to society. Personally I go home every week with a smile on my face. Recently I showed someone how to send an email, and a few weeks later he sent a thank you, by email. Those are the gifts you get back.”

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