Bridging the generation gap with fun and games | Anna Formosa

Teodor Reljic speaks to Anna Formosa, the coordinator of the Darba Waħda project – a Valletta 2018 initiative which seeks to heal the rift between the young and old generations in Malta through multidisciplinary cultural activities that both kids and the elderly can participate in

jeanelle_mifsud
Jeanelle Mifsud
29 September 2016, 8:59am
Anna Formosa (centre): “Elderly people have a wealth of information to give”
Anna Formosa (centre): “Elderly people have a wealth of information to give”
How did the project first come about, and what were its initial aims?

Some years ago, when I lived in England, I had taken up a new job as Education Manager for a theatre company in Oxford. On my first day at work, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, I was happily walking to a bench in a nearby park to have my lunch, when I heard an old lady say something to me. I turned around, smiled and had a short conversation with her. By the time I got back to the office, I knew I had to somehow create some work with elderly people. A few years after that, I led my first intergenerational project in Oxford. 

I then moved back to Malta for good and wanted to apply the knowledge I had gained from my master’s degree in applied drama from Exeter University and the vast experience from working on diverse projects in England, to my community in Malta, including the elderly. It was actually the idea of a group of elderly people I was working with at the time to involve children. 

They used to enjoy talking about their childhood. They had fascinating stories of war, and happier memories of childhood and growing up, singing għana and dancing. They used to tell me “Wouldn’t it be great if children could hear these stories?” And so… Darba Waħda was born.

Do you think Darba Waħda responds to some urgent problems that need to be addressed within various Maltese communities?

As time goes by, people are living longer. Advancement of science and technology enables people to lead independent lives at an older age but the fast, busy lifestyles and technology also pushes families apart leaving a lot of our elderly people isolated and spending a lot of time on their own with nothing to do. There are also a lot of elderly people who don’t have families altogether nor have people to visit them at all. There are various activities such as those organised by their local church groups and local councils, however there are very few opportunities where elderly people can exercise their creativity, even fewer where children are involved. Children on the other hand tend to spend more time on their tablets and mobile phones than interacting with others. 

Darba Waħda offers a combination of factors. It gives elderly people the opportunity to socialise and exercise their creativity and young people the opportunity to be involved in a creative project and enjoy developing healthy interactions. Elderly people have a wealth of information to give. It also provides the opportunity to pass down sociological information and cultural traditions. 

Children may spend an infinite amount of time with their grandparents while their parents are at work but there are very rare occasions where the grandparents talk about how they grew up and what kind of games they used to play. Darba Waħda creates the space for this encounter to take place, making elderly people feel valued members of their community. 

One elderly participant who joined in last season’s session, said in an interview, “I have never taken part in something like this, and it opened up a whole new world for me.” Young people also bring with them a lot of enthusiasm and energy as well which is tangibly felt throughout the sessions. Hence, importantly Darba Waħda gives participants, especially the elderly participants, the opportunity for fun and laughter, which contributes towards their wellbeing. 

Anna Formosa
Anna Formosa
What kind of social and psychological ‘damage’ do you believe a lack of communication between the younger and older generation can lead to in the long term, and how do you think projects like Darba Waħda can combat them?

Darba Waħda creates the perfect platform for contact and exchange of information between the two generations, broadening understanding each of the other through fun and creativity. Elderly people have fantastic stories to tell, and a very wide range of skills and vast knowledge. 

Darba Waħda harnesses these skills, knowledge and experience enabling young people to see these positive aspects of elderly people. This fosters respect in young people towards the elderly, bridging the gap between the two generations and strengthening a sense of community. 

How are the sessions structured, and why did you go for this particular approach?

In every session we explore something new, a different artform. We do drama, storytelling, arts and crafts among many other things. Each group has its own characteristics and dynamics so I tailor-make the sessions for each group as one session might work well with one group but not in another group. 

This approach was chosen to give participants access to a broad set of skills and also to cater for the diverse interests participants bring in with them.We also have various visiting artists as well. Last season among others, we had an artist, Glen Calleja, who taught us how to make our own book, and Leanne Ellul, who enabled participants to create a poem together. 

This enables them to access high quality experiences but also broadens their general knowledge and skill set. 

What are some of the main challenges of working with both younger and older age groups?

I focus on creating a space where both the young people with all their energy, and older people, who tend to need more breaks, can both enjoy the sessions. I value the element of inclusivity which permeates through the work and encourages participants to follow. I also aim to create an enviroment where participants feel safe to explore without being ridiculed and enjoy working and sharing together. 

Darba Waħda is organised under the auspices of the Valletta 2018 Foundation. Upcoming sessions will take place in Zabbar (Wednesdays starting September 28), Kirkop (Thursdays starting September 29), Siggiewi (Fridays starting September 30) and Birkirkara (Mondays starting October 3). For more information, log on to http://valletta2018.org/cultural-programme/darba-wahda/ or search for ‘Darba Waħda’ on Facebook