A nursing home in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, is renting vacant rooms to young white-collar workers at a negligible price in exchange for voluntary assistance. The program not only saves the young people money, but ensures that older residents enjoy regular company.
Young residents at the Sunshine Nursing Home in the city's Binjiang district pay just 300 yuan ($45) a month, the property management fee for a 33-square-meter twin room they share with a peer.
In return, they are obliged to spend at least 20 hours a month entertaining the seniors and enriching their lives by providing services such as tuition in calligraphy and technical skills or just chatting with them, according to Wang Kai, director of the nursing home's social work department.
"Some European countries such as Switzerland also use this intergenerational pattern. We think it is a good thing to learn from. The rent in our district is a little high for young people, and we initiated this project along with the district's Communist Youth League committee and the civil affairs authority in December to reduce the pressure on them," he said.
The website of Ziroom, a popular apartment rental company that owns residential properties in nine cities, including Hangzhou, shows that the average rent for a 20-sq-m room in the district is at least 2,000 yuan a month.
"At present, 14 volunteers live here with more than 600 seniors. We have our own full-time social work group, so the young residents don't need to do laborious work. What they need to do is spare a little time to act as partners. With lively younger people living in the nursing home, which used to be very quiet, the seniors gain valuable memories," Wang said.
Eligible candidates are required to be single and to not own any residential property in the city. In addition, they should have a college degree and must have graduated in the past seven years.
"This is a two-way selection. The seniors will decide whether the young tenants can stay and the young people can also opt to leave if they don't like the setup," Wang said.
Wu Kai applied for the project when he graduated this year.
The 21-year-old, who works for a community association, often watches the TV news with older residents in the evenings. He also plays table tennis with the seniors and acts as a teaching assistant at weekend calligraphy classes."I hope to stay with them for as long as possible, unless I change my job. Their children are busy with work, but the seniors enjoy the company of younger people. I have benefited a lot, too. For example, a retired teacher in our apartment enjoys sharing her geographical knowledge with us. I have really learned lots from the seniors," he said.
The program recruited the first volunteers in December, and held a second recruitment round in May.
Two successful applicants from the first group are still living at the nursing home.
"So far, we have only tested the project at the Sunshine Nursing Home because it was built fairly recently and has good facilities. We plan to increase the number of volunteers if most of those selected are able to stay for long periods," Sun Yijing, an administrator for the Communist Youth League committee in Binjiang, said.