Here you are never alone – residential groups as solutions to loneliness

It was a long-held wish of Shahnaz Shahbazi: a residential group for Iranian elders. That wish has become reality. Since 2021, 32 elderly have been living together, spread across two locations in Amsterdam North.

“We didn’t manage to find one location for all the elderly,” Gerda explains. She is involved in the living group as a volunteer.

“Now we have two living groups in two separate buildings: one belongs to housing corporation Stadgenoot and the other to De Alliantie.” The total living group meets twice a week. The greatest benefit of living together is that they can communicate in their mother tongue, Farsi, and share their memories, both joyful and sad. The entire living group eats together, plays games such as bingo and (Iranian) cards. There are also karaoke evenings. In addition, the total living group meets monthly to have a specific topic explained by Farsi-speaking specialists and experts on topics as diverse as dementia, taxes, health insurance, diabetes, oral hygiene, nutrition.”



“We have no cousins, aunts or uncles here,” says resident Fari. “We only have compatriots. How nice is it that we can live together? That we can speak our own language, share our own values and norms with each other? During the various activities of the Andishe Foundation, Shahnaz discovered a lot of loneliness among Iranian elderly. Thus, the idea for a living group came to her. “When my mother was still alive I already had the idea,” she said. She spent 15 years getting the first living group done.

Mother tongue
With the tremendous help of the Maagdenhuis and Eniec member Harry Moeskops of Woonsaem, the knowledge center communal living for older people with a migration background, the two housing corporations made that dream a reality. “We are grateful to them every day for that, especially when you see how ideal it is for our Iranian elderly. They live together and can sing and reminisce in their own language. All the elderly speak pretty good Dutch, but the older one gets, the more important it becomes to be able to communicate, to be able to explain something in your mother tongue. That is so nice to see,” says Gerda.  In both groups, men and women live intermingled. Each resident is 55 years of age or older. That is a requirement to qualify for the group. Shahnaz handles the allocation. A relatively large number of single elderly people live in both groups.  “We have four couples here and the rest are single. It is, of course, an ideal form of living for people who are alone, because here you are never really alone,” Shahnaz said. The ladies put in a lot of time, all unpaid.  They help with the activities and are points of contact for the residents. “It i
They help with activities and are points of contact for residents. “It’s love work, old paper. No, that sounds too negative. It’s love work, valuable paper,” Gerda said.

Own location
The ladies have more plans. “Our biggest wish is to have a location for our foundation so we can really be a community center,” says Shahnaz.  “We used to have that but not anymore. Everyone misses us, the neighborhood with all its beautiful residents of various migration backgrounds miss us. And not only the elderly, but also the young and the very young because they also used our activities, like the tutoring.” Furthermore, the ladies want to get more residential groups off the ground. The waiting list does not lie: fifty enthusiasts are waiting for a place. Gerda: “Well, that’s going to take a long time because people don’t leave here easily. That’s why we want more residential groups. Also for Afghan elderly and Turkish elderly. The need is there. ”

Written by Yvonne Witter