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Young lodgers bring joy to elderly nursing home residents' lives

By Liu Mingtai and Zhou Huiying | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-22 06:24
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A volunteer teaches a senior to use the smartphone at the Xiyangfu Nursing Home in Jilin city, Jilin province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

After his final exam on Jan 11, Wang Yatao immediately moved into the Xiyangfu Nursing Home in Jilin city, Jilin province, becoming a special lodger among the group of seniors.

The 22-year-old sophomore at the Jilin Agricultural Science and Technology University decided to spend two weeks at the nursing home before returning to his hometown in Yingtan city, Jiangxi province.

"I was attracted by a short video posted on (video-sharing platform) Douyin in early January," he says. "In the video, the owner of the nursing home was recruiting young people as lodgers."

People who are younger than 35 and have a college education can get a single room, three meals a day and a monthly stipend of 300 yuan ($42) with a requirement to do 20 hours of volunteer service during that period.

Applicants should have a fixed job or study in college, and should not drink or smoke.

"In fact, what attracted me was not the small stipend but rather, the volunteer service," says Wang. "I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a different kind of volunteer experience."

Wang has participated in the volunteer team since he enrolled in the university.

"We initiated various volunteer activities across the city, such as visiting nursing homes, tutoring impoverished and 'left-behind' children of migrant workers, and teaching the public about environmental protection," he says.

"But I have never lived with so many seniors and delved so deeply into their lives."

Zhou Weihong, owner of the nursing home, hopes to build a platform for both the elderly and youth.

"Lots of young people have to leave their hometowns and relatives for study or work, so they may miss the chance to live with their families, especially their grandparents," says the 60-year-old.

"Living in my nursing home will enable them to better understand and communicate with the elderly. And these younger people can bring new things and vitality to the elderly residents, who are … much happier when their grandchildren visit."

Zhou's post recruiting lodgers has racked up over 1 million hits since he put it online in early January.

"I received hundreds of applications," he says. "After careful screening, I chose six, all of whom are college students from the cities of Jilin, Changchun and Baicheng.

"They will spend about two weeks of vacation before the Spring Festival in the nursing home," he says, adding that another 10 will come after the festival.

Zhou's nursing home opened in 2004 and houses around 100 seniors, aged from 50 to 100.

"There are 30 workers taking care of their daily lives, so I don't worry about labor," he says. "I just hope the volunteers will provide quality companionship."

Zhou says a growing proportion of the population is elderly, especially in the northeast.

"I hope young people will be able to alleviate their loneliness, understand their difficulties and deepen their awareness while respecting and loving the elderly," he says.

Over 280 million Chinese, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the population, were above 60 years old by the end of 2022, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. A further 210 million people, or almost 15 percent, are 65 or older.

Wang says he and the other volunteers have spent the last few days presenting performances, painting pictures and exercising with the seniors.

"I spent almost all of my time during the day with them. It was a really different vacation," he says.

"It gives me a warm feeling. They treat us like their grandchildren, and share their fruit and snacks with us. I'll continue to visit after I return to my university in the spring semester. And I'll spread the word about this among our volunteer team."

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