On January 31st, 2020, the Trump Administration declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency and imposed a 14-day quarantine for Americans who had travelled to China over the past 2 weeks. Since then, the situation has only escalated, forcing residents into a seemingly never-ending confinement. The psychological effects that accompany extended isolation can be detrimental to one’s mental health, and include side effects such as anxiety, loneliness, and emotional exhaustion.
Senior citizens in particular suffer from these repercussions which can lead to a range of severe health issues. The work done by volunteers here at COVID Networks aim to help lift some of the emotional strain of senior citizens through interactive online activities planned by our co-founders and volunteers. This week, 4 of our volunteers got together thrice over the course of one week, planning COVID Network’s latest project, an interactive museum tour done with the residents of Priya Living.
Priya Living is a senior living community with a very active and predominantly Indian population. Because of this, we decided to base the virtual tour in India so the seniors would be able to relate and connect with the topics shown, which included exhibits showcasing religious scriptures of Hinduism(Vedas), locations and landmarks in India, the history and evolution of Telugu cinema(also known as Tollywood), and the history and significance of ancient buildings in India. Each of these subjects were researched extensively by the volunteers who each added their own personal touches, whether it was through stories about childhood or videos about interesting facts related to the topics.
Even when unexpected complications arose, volunteers were flexible and calm, focused on the enjoyment of the senior residents. For example, when a volunteer had accidentally slept through the first 45 minutes of the event, the presenters kept their cool and continued to interact with the seniors while trying to figure out a solution. Pranav Eranki, the student moderator of this event, quickly repositioned the slides so that the tardy volunteer would present her exhibition after everyone else. Luckily, she came online just in time to showcase her part and the seniors didn’t even seem to notice.
When asked how he felt by the end of this event, Pranav Eranki said “It was really fulfilling because [we] spent a lot of time figuring out the logistics and figuring out the times, the volunteers especially put a lot of time in… the volunteers met 3 times during the week planning this.” When he saw how much the senior citizens were enjoying it, he felt that the work they had done paid off because they were able to see seniors smile and laugh as they were reminded of the beauty of their hometown.
The volunteers of COVID Networks plan for this to become a regular experience for the seniors, in hopes that it can brighten up their days little by little in these stressful times. This experience can also serve as a lesson for all of us who are facing times that seem bleak and exhausting; it’s important to take a second to think back to when days were brighter, and hold onto the belief that they’ll be seen again.
The familiarity of the subjects allowed the seniors to feel comfortable enough to open up about their own memories and experiences, often chiming in with their own fun facts or opinions, whether it was about their favorite Bollywood actors or fond memories of a certain landmark. Volunteers often asked questions which allowed the seniors to stay engaged and feel motivated. This helped lift their spirits as they reminisced about the lively conversation and beautiful architecture of the streets of India.
Throughout the weeks, we have received exponentially more seniors participating in our yoga sessions and very positive feedback from both the activities director and seniors.