Getting millennials to ditch their screens

The millennials are the so-called digital natives; they’re computer savvy and adopt new technology quickly so the gaps between the generations may appear difficult to bridge, but one organisation aims to change that.

Nilima Venkat of Shanti Niwas

Shanti Niwas is a charitable trust which works with seniors who have Indian and South Asian backgrounds, and live in the Auckland region.

Project manager Nilima Venkat (right) says many of the older people they see are migrants who can become socially isolated.

Already living in a country where the culture, customs and language are different, the seniors see the younger generation growing up with quite disparate values.

They may also feel excluded because of the revolutionary changes in technology.

Shanti Niwas looks to volunteers to help out, and keep older people connected.

“We get school children, sometimes teenagers, sometimes college students to come and interact with seniors, just have discussions with them,” says Ms Venkat.

“We’ve got a program where volunteers come and teach them how to do basic mobile and internet. Everybody’s got What’sApp now so my phone is going ting, ting, ting all the time.

“We teach our older people how to connect with that younger generation.”

Showing off skills

The younger children are also keen to take part in inter-generational programmes.

Aarushi Suri was able to show off skills with a Rubik’s cube.

“Living far away from India, most of the children my age do not get the chance to live with our grandparents.

Shanti Niwas children at tables with older people

“I learnt some new paper crafts and crochet from them. We played games together and did some group activities. I also amazed them with my Rubik's cube and card tricks.

“We spent some really good quality time together and I look forward to meeting up with my senior friends again.”

Mehda found the group activities really useful.

“I learned most of the basics in knitting with the help of the grandmas.

“Most of the grandparents were happy and nice and were very interested in interacting with us.”

Two sisters, Yami and Harika Gannabathula, also enjoyed the sessions.

“When me and my sister walk into those doors, it reminds us of home, not home as in where we live, but a home for our hearts.

“The doors lead us to a totally different world.

“We see faces which we have never seen before but all [the] love and affection they give us,.. thank you grandparents for all the love.”

Kindness and connections

Ms Venkat believes older people have a lot to offer younger generations.

“It’s care and that continuity of culture because if nobody’s going to talk to these younger generations who are growing up here – the parents, who are the in-between generation, have got no time unfortunately because they’re busy doing their jobs, putting the food on the table, so I can’t blame them.

“It is the older people who have got the time, who have got the knowledge so it’s really good if you connected these two – the younger generation and the older generation.”

Girl applies nail polish to older woman

Meera Sethi, one of the older participants, had some initial concerns about whether the inter-generational initiative would work.

“We were wondering how this would look out at the attitudes of children and how it is changing in children worldwide.

“We had organised games,.. some groups did art work, some took part in activities such as singing and dancing.

“By the end of the first session, an instant rapport was established.”

There was also the opportunity to see life from a different perspective.

“The programme is an innovation wherein the young children’s talent is appreciated by elders,” says G.V. Krishna Swarmy, who took part.

“The grandparents also had the opportunity to express their ideas about various aspects of the New Zealand way of life when compared with their native city.”

The opportunity to make connections between generations is a priority for Shanti Niwas.

“Families matter a lot and so we take a holistic approach,” says Ms Venkat. “It’s not an individualised approach so we involve seniors and the family.

“We are very family-focused. We’re not client focused, we’re family focused and that’s the cultural difference.”

Girls do origami at Shanti Niwas

Another participant Vimal Kumar was really positive about the benefits.

“It encourages inter-generation understanding and co-operation, sharing of knowledge, sharing of experience, and understanding of expectations.

“It gives joy to be with the young and children and spend some time with them.”

Shanti Niwas’ social worker Naveed Ahmed says it’s about creating links.

“The inter-generational programme was organised to reduce the gap between the two generations and to bring about better understanding between them.

“Our goal is to develop meaningful connections and build bridges between both generations.”