The VU University (Athena Science Shop and the Community Service Learning project ‘A Broader Mind’) organized together with the municipality of Amsterdam two local workshops in which VU students, VU lecturers, and various social organizations of the New-West district in Amsterdam collaborated to find solutions for emerging social issues. The aim of these events was to extract societal issues from the district and allow students (within educational activities/courses) to make a contribution to the questions these social organizations have.
The first workshop on the 30th of January was an introductory meeting to get to know each other and to explore the potential social issues and questions in the district. For the second workshop we opted for “Loneliness” as the main topic for the second workshop. The results of these workshops provide input for new Science Shop projects in which students collaborate with the community to solve societal issues.
During the second workshop, we had as a starting point that the loneliness among the population of the Amsterdam New-West district must be reduced. In the district New-West, loneliness is greater than in other parts of Amsterdam. This loneliness is mostly present among people between 45 and 54 years old, unemployed people and low educated people with little money. The largest percentage of lonely people is among the Turkish-Dutch population.
That is why around twenty lecturers from the VU University went to the community centre of the district to discuss together with the municipality and social organizations about the approach to this societal issue. These lectures work mainly within the health and social science field. Together with, among others, local estate agents from the municipality and people from social organizations such as student housing project “Vooruit”, housing corporation “De Alliantie” and healthcare institution “Philadelphia”, the lecturers worked on ideas to involve students in solving problems related to loneliness in the district in groups.
Learning from status holders
In one of the groups, they talked about people who emerge from social shelters and status holders who get their own house. Floor Wijnands, project manager at “Vooruit”, said: “They are happy when they get their own house, but they come from a close community and are suddenly alone. How do you keep all those different people in a neighbourhood together? And how can you also use the experience of the newcomers with living together with a group of people that you have not chosen yourself?” Her group members agreed with her and the group leader wrote the questions on a post-it. In this way, they collected questions that students may find an answer to. Some of the questions were: “How do you make a senior citizen centre more vibrant? And how can you better guide people who speak the language badly?” One of the conclusions from this group was that it is very important to have a good conversation with everyone beforehand to avoid a stiff cooperation in the future.Overloading vulnerable people with students.
In another group, Barbara Bijlstra, project manager at “Boot” which is an organization of the “Hogeschool van Amsterdam” that links students to questions from residents and organizations in Amsterdam neighbourhoods, shares her concern that you should not overload vulnerable people with students. The group concludes that it is good if the VU University can join activities that have already been set up in the neighbourhoods.
Most groups did not come further than drawing general conclusions during the workshops. However, the workshop also aimed to allow the participants to make new possible future cooperation partners. This networking started right from the walk-in and was present until the end of the workshop.
Learning to build a community
Nevertheless, one group did succeed in getting something more concrete during the workshop. A representative from “Philadelphia”, a healthcare facility for people with intellectual disabilities, suggested that you can also reduce loneliness by building a community. She wanted to know how you can teach that to healthcare providers so that they not only improve the health but also the well-being of their clients as a group.
Prof.dr. Marjolein Zweekhorst of the Athena Institute and Dr. Peer Smets of sociology saw opportunities during the workshops for students to get started in successive courses or internships. How exactly, they still have to work out, but the beginning has been made during these workshops.
See also in the media: Wat kunnen studenten doen tegen eenzaamheid in de stad?