PARIS, FRANCE (3TV/CBS 5) -- A program launched by a nonprofit organization is helping connect French-learning students virtually with seniors living in care homes and facilities in France.
The program, ShareAmi, helps students learning the French language and helps combat isolation in care facilities and nursing homes for older adults. The program is a new initiative from the nonprofit organization, Oldyssey, which works to change the perception about old age and integrate seniors into everyday life. ShareAmi was launched in May 2020 by Clement Boxebeld, who founded Oldyssey, Juliette Neyran and Julia Mourri.
"It started actually as a simple idea. To match elderly people in France with students learning French abroad so that they can have a weekly chat over video conference," said Neyran. "The aim of this program is to reduce isolation around elderly people and so that they also feel valued."
It was an idea the trio had in mind for a while, but with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and months-long quarantine, the team decided it was the time to launch the program.
"We found it particularly relevant to implement because the elderly were particularly isolated, and on the other side, the students had less opportunity to travel abroad, go and make an exchange, and actually practice the language," Neyran said.
The three launched the program with Boxebeld and Mourri setting up the network with senior care homes in France, and Neyran reaching out to universities while based in the UK.
One university jumped on board, with four to five students registering to participate in the program's early months. Since then, the number of students has grown following positive feedback and momentum. As a charity, the program relies on volunteers to help match and set up students with older adult participants at care homes.
"A volunteer will call each individual person and explain the program and making sure they know how to use the technical tools to connect. They'll attend the first call as well to make sure they're comfortable and that it's going fine," Neyran said.
Neyran says the feedback is very encouraging and inspiring the team to expand the program. The group sent surveys to the participants in the program to gauge the impact. Neyran says on the senior side, 100% of participants said they felt they were able to contribute to helping the students improve, and that on the other side, the students said it really helped them feel more comfortable with their practice.
"It's not like a class, and the elderly are not teachers. It's just an informal conversation, like having a cup of tea and having a chat, and that's why the students feel comfortable," Neyran said.
The French Red Cross has partnered with the ShareAmi program, helping coordinate for the group with students abroad and migrants who have arrived in France to learn French.
To help encourage conversation, supporting documents and content on the website give participants material to read about and discuss.
The ShareAmi program received a boost of exposure following a Tweet that went viral by one UK participant. Her tweet was retweeted over 17,000 times and received over 323,000 likes. The student praised the program, referring to it as a wholesome experience.
"We had a lot of exposure on the student side. We had a lot sign up, and from the U.S. who saw the tweet sign up. What we need to do is find some funding, and some volunteers, and more interest on the elderly side in France next," Neyran said on the next steps for the program.
The program hopes as more join to participate, not only will students improve their French, but that the senior participants will feel less isolated and more confident in their social media and technology usage.
"In general, I hope it can contribute to helping foster an international link, reduce stereotypes about age, and fostering communication between cultures. That's what's great, is to see these people who will never have met each other in real life just have a conversation, and that's one of the main objectives of the program," said Neyran.
Neyran urges patience for newcomers and students looking to participate. The program is still relatively new and volunteers are working on setting up matches as fast as possible with the resources they have. The founders hope to continue building momentum and their network so that every participant can get a match and have a great experience.