Drawing Intergenerational Connections
Peace and Security Research and Policy Intern
November 2016- June 2017
A third-year student at Tulane University in New Orleans, the city that has her heart, Hanan is studying Neuroscience and Public Health with career goals either in international law or palliative care. To keep well-adjusted, Hanan balances her mostly science-leaning course load with well-developed outside interests, ranging from elderly care to refugee relief, writing, and travel. Hanan is passionate about finding creative ways to uplift traditionally silenced voices, and is super excited for the opportunity of mentorship from Dr. Murabit!
I first started volunteering at a local nursing home – I’ll call it Our Sanctuary – when I was twelve years old. Today, as a rising senior in college, visiting Our Sanctuary feels as natural to me as going to class and taking good notes. It’s actually an ongoing joke among many people who know me personally that my best friends are four, a few even five, times my age. When I first started there, the volunteer coordinator would assign me tasks – for example, to pass out mail, wheel residents to the dining room, and occasionally feed someone who old age rendered incapable of feeding him- or herself.
But as time passed, and I began to forge strong relationships with the residents, the staff at Our Sanctuary gradually began to treat me more like a resident’s family member and less like a volunteer. I could now arrive before or after normal working hours, and I no longer required the supervision of a staff member to follow me around and ensure that I wasn’t getting into trouble.
Through the years, residents and I have sung oldies in unison, journeyed across the globe to places as different from New Orleans as Marrakesh, Morocco with Google Earth, and discussed current events during what started as a literary club when I was a sophomore in high school but what has since become a time when a bunch of friends get together, chat their hearts away, read absorbing stories and discuss them, and indulge in something delightful like chocolate chip cookies.
When I got to University and couldn’t find an existing organization like it, I started Bridging Generations, a project devoted to elderly care, to connect the young and the old and to foster empathy and companionship instead of cynicism and avoidance when confronting illness and old age.
Brainstorming ideas for a new initiative, I kept coming back to this one: to begin drawing residents and documenting their stories. And so that’s what a friend named Alison Barnwell and I began doing. The act of sitting across from a person and carefully rendering the lines of their face and body represents a deeply respectful valuation of individual worth: when was the last time the average resident of a crowded nursing home spent an hour with somebody who noted the minutia of their shape, dress, and expression through the process of drawing these details?
For many residents, this visit is their first such one-on-one experience in a long time, addressing a basic human need to be noticed and respected.
The moment of drawing also poses an opportunity for conversation across cultural and generational divisions, which is especially important in today’s sociopolitical climate.
We give the residents their sketches to keep, and many are often surprised by the person they see on canvas, often asking incredulously, with tears welling up, “Is that really me?” I hope to continue this project and use it as inspiration for a children’s picture book that dear friends Kathy Le and Yuqi “Teresa” Zhao and I will be undertaking this summer. Our goal is to chronicle the beauty stemming from intergenerational relationships that are not a product of sanguinity and are cultivated with effort, time, and nurturing, and to speak openly about the more painful things that sometimes accompany aging, such as illness, loss of independence, and feelings of isolation.