Bonding youths and seniors over a shared meal.
Food can bond generations together and facilitate deep conversations, and that is what a new initiative called Makan with Seniors by Ageless Online and its youth initiative, FACEUP, hopes to do. On May 19, 2018 at A Good Space (at the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre), 14 youths and 16 seniors came together and brought their favourite food for sharing. The youngest was 15 while the oldest was 93, and there were senior volunteers who assisted during the event.
After a short mingling session, the youths and seniors were paired, with some having two seniors at a table. For one and a half hours, the pairs either used a structured menu with questions (such as what is your memory of WWII, or what was your favourite place in Singapore while growing up), or they conversed without it. Some even brought photos and/or objects from their past to aid in the conversations.
Makan with Seniors is an iteration from Feast with Strangers by Oxford historian Theodore Zeldin, which is an event held all around the world. However, Makan with Seniors takes a different take focusing on bonding the generations together to create more understanding and empathy.
Explained Eleanor Yap, founder and director of Ageless Online, “I find a lot of the youths and seniors don’t talk to each other because of a number of reasons including language barrier and they just don’t know how to start and what to say. Makan with Seniors gives the youths an opportunity to do so and to have fun doing it.”
She added that the session has many benefits to both youths and seniors. For seniors, it shows them they are still valued members of society and there are people who care and want to hear their stories. They get to also talk to youths and break down their own stereotypes about youths, and they gain new friendships. For the youths, they get a handphone timeout. They also get to converse with someone older, which they might not have done before, and gain new friendships.
Eleanor said: “The youths get to know seniors better. Understanding brings less stereotyping. Furthermore, it will help them as they age and also in their own families as their parents and grandparents age.”
Both the seniors and youths of the first-ever Makan with Seniors session found spending a few hours on a weekend well-worth it. Said Jim Then, 72, “It was a very relaxed environment and programme to chat and learn from each other. Good sharing between the participants despite generation gap.”
Added Katherine Tan, 27, “What I enjoyed was that I got to meet someone I probably would never get to approach elsewhere.” Rosemarie Daisy Chandran, 64, shared, “What I enjoyed was interacting with a much younger person as well as a much older person. Basically, there are no age barriers. It is one human relating to another.”
Other participants also enjoyed listening to the stories of the seniors. The youngest in the session, Joshua Koh, 15, said: “I enjoyed listening to the elderly talking about their life experiences. I also enjoyed being able to interact with them.” Added 20-year-old, Melanie Chng: “I enjoyed just having the time and space to sit down and have an uninterrupted conversation with someone and to learn about their stories.”
Another participant, Desmond Chua, 30, said: “I enjoyed listening to the stories of the people I talked to and discovering what we have in common. Allowing us to bring our own food and sharing it is a good idea.” The seniors were also happy that the youths took an interest in them. Said Rosalind Lee, 67, “I enjoyed having a youth showing interest in seniors.”
But, the best was that some even managed to get past their initial fears of meeting a senior. “Initially I felt a lot of fear and confusion about how the conversation might turn out and if there was going to be a lot of communication barriers between the elderly and myself,” said Valerie Lee, 21. She was paired with 80-year-old Lily Boon. “I really enjoyed talking to Lilly, listening to her share advice and showing me photos of herself when she was younger. She was very generous in sharing her experiences, her artwork and I’m very thankful for her openness.”
The next Makan with Seniors session will be on June 16 at Senior Savvy 2018 organised by Youth Corps Singapore’s Eldercare Cluster. This will be followed by another Makan session on June 23 at A Good Day organised by A Good Space. If you would like to be a participant, please e-mail Eleanor Yap at email@example.com. Seats are limited and it is a first-come, first-serve basis. Also, if you want to hold a Makan with Seniors session in your community, or elsewhere, do let us know.