Bolivia: an elder rights association uses social media to recruit young volunteers

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Social media has been the driving force behind Nieto Voluntario, an association with one goal: bringing joy to older adults, by making them feel included and restoring their self-esteem. 

Elders in Bolivia
Credit: Shanti Hesse/

Nieto Voluntario: supporting vulnerable elders in Bolivia

In Bolivia, elder rights are usually not the primary goal of charities. “[Organizations] exist for women, children, and even animals, but for older people, there’s very little,” said Dr. Mauricio Osorio Terán, head of the department for older adults in the municipal government of Cochabamba.

Nieto Voluntario (“volunteer grandkid” in Spanish) is one of very few associations dedicated to the elderly: it was founded in June 2015, and aims at helping elders in the broadest sense: their actions include rescuing homeless people and fighting depression and isolation by holding events.

The association teams up with homes and shelters for the elderly, managed and supported either by the State or privately, by churches. Their primary aim is to support vulnerable elders : those with little to no income, those who were abandoned by their family, and who live on the streets.

Read more : Denmark: Cycling with the elderly

A Facebook campaign targeting generation Y and X

Social media som

The association was founded by Mariana Villegas Villaroel and Silver Reyes ; both have a background in marketing and advertising, and put it to good use : one their first actions was to put together a Facebook campaign targeting generation Y and X, from 19 to 24. The campaign was met with a booming success: 250 volunteers responded within the first two months.

“Many of our volunteers had recently lost their grandparents. Young people often tend more toward working with children. Our volunteers found they took to the work well because they hadn’t had ,children yet, but had a lot of experience looking after their grandparents”, said M. Reyes.

The campaign is not restricted to Facebook: social workers also use WhatsApp to find missing elders. Younger volunteers are a valuable tool: their tech-savviness means they can help older association members on IT-related subjects, such as how to use a computer or how to use technology to access information.

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