“I’m 21 years old, in my last year of applied physics and I hope to have my degree by the summer. I’ve lived abroad for 14 years of my life because of my father’s work. I was born in Bolivia and a few years later we moved back to Holland. Then we moved to China and Vietnam and now we’re back in the Netherlands. Living abroad sparked an interest in me to do more for other people. When I started studying here, I missed a social aspect so I got into volunteer work. I started by volunteering at a home for the elderly and now I do volunteer work for the Buddy Netwerk.
First you apply to Buddy Netwerk and then you do some training. In the training the volunteers learn how to address certain things, like how to listen to someone or how to help someone who’s grieving. Then you choose the type of work you want to do, for example working with people with dementia or lonely older people or a child who is sick. I chose to work with lonely elderly.
I was matched up with a friend who is almost 84 years old and nearly blind. Every two weeks we spent an afternoon doing whatever she wanted to do. Sometimes it was going to the garden shop, other times going to a museum, buying groceries or shopping for things, whatever she wanted.
‘It’s a mutual friendship’
You commit for a year and then, depending on the needs of your buddy, you can stay on longer. But at one point the organisation says this is where we stop and the contact that you have with your buddy is your own choice. My year has ended, but I still meet up with my friend once every three or four weeks for coffee. She’s a really nice lady and she honestly has become a good friend of mine despite the 60+ years age difference. She understands me. Often you feel like you should be helping that person. But I’ve had my ups and downs this year and she has really been there for me. It’s a mutual friendship.
When I started, people always asked how I made time for this. You think in terms of things costing time, but my experience has been that when I spent time with her, I got more energy out of it than before I did this. Being with her makes me feel so positive and happy and grateful for the smaller things in life. I think in terms of how you feel, you get a lot out of it. I think it’s important to give time to people who are less fortunate. I really think more students should do it.”
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