Hanna Murray-Carlsson Conducted Research among Migrants in Nijmegen Day Centers

written by Hanna-Murray Carlsson

Do professionals offering culture-specific daytime activities do things differently than mainstream providers? And what is the role of day care centres for older migrants in relation to municipalities and other care providers?

Those were the questions guiding my research in day care centres for older migrants in Nijmegen, the Netherlands

To collect data, I conducted participatory observation. In this case, it meant playing games for months, serving lunch and listening to the experiences of the elderly and professionals. It was clear from the start that the professionals in culturally specific services do their work with passion and expertise. But what kind of expertise do they have, and what difference does that expertise make in the lives of older migrants, and for their relationships to other care and welfare organizations?

For many of the older people in my study, culturally specific daytime activities were accessible places to encounter formal care in, such as domestic support, home care, support in contact with hospital and doctors, transport and fall alarm). In addition, the culturally specific day care center was a place of belonging for older people who had felt excluded elsewhere.

A late-in-life migrant from Iran, who I interviewed together with an interpreter, said that she did not feel at home when spending a day with older people born in the Netherlands:

“(She) was left out there by the residents, by those who came there, and it made her feel lonely.”

It was very different in the daytime activities for migrant elders:

“She feels at home here because they are very friendly, it is as if she visits her family here, they take good care of her.”

The day-care activities were accessible, partly due to adjustments to food, music and furnishings, but also because of to the culture-specific knowledge of professionals. The day-care professionals were “translators” between the Dutch health care system and the life world of their clients, a translation which went two ways:  

On the one hand, they translated Dutch ideas about daytime activities into what their migrant clients consider important. For example, one of the coordinators always explained to her clients, in Turkish, why not only social contacts, but also sports activities are important:

“A lot of older people don’t realize that they come here with a purpose. But I remind them that day-care activities have a purpose and that they are sitting here for a reason, the neighbourhood team does not give this prescription for nothing, you get  you are entitled to daytime activities, so make good use of it by participating, by moving: I say -‘Gosh you have a lot of diseases, physical complaints, it is good that even if you can do nothing, you move while sitting, participate in the sport activity, it is really good that you do that.

On the other hand, the professionals “translate” the activities so that they become relevant to their target group. For example, I was invited to do Turkish folk dance with the clients and experienced a spa day which among other things included facial hair removal by threading, which was much appreciated by the clients.

Sometimes culturally specific care is a negotiation between different norms and values. Managers were asked to defend their choice to spend money on things such as a warm, extensive lunch, rather than sandwiches and buttermilk which is the common lunch in the Netherlands. According to a representative of the municipality, everything is possible, but:

“The Dutch standard is the norm. There are possibilities to deviate from this, but then you have to have a very clear story about why you do it”

During my fieldwork, I saw tensions between the culture-sensitive care organizations, the municipality and other care and welfare organizations. Culture-sensitive daytime activities mean a lot to the older people who are clients. That is because the professionals who work there are experts in translating and negotiating what good care is, between Dutch standards and the experience of their clients. For the future I hope that the cooperation will improve between culturally specific organizations, municipalities and other care and welfare organizations.

Do you want to know more? Then read the scientific article at: 

https: //www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14649365.2020.1723135? Fbclid = IwAR2HmhCkBeKRNCLLyzuqiIyuP5gD1vyH-jmvghoQj04MPMy1Z9kD7_e_kmQ