Studying at university gives you the opportunity to acquire academic knowledge as well as experiences which can mark your life. If you decide to be part of solidarity volunteer programmes, those experiences will accompany you forever, and even more in these intense and complicated moments which we are living.
People who take part in the shared accommodation programme of the Pablo de Olavide University, ‘Universitari@s Solidari@s’, are a clear example of cooperation and coexistence. It is a service that offers free accommodation at homes of people in need, whether they are elderly, disabled, or single-parent families, to the UPO students throughout the academic year.
Despite the confinement decreed by COVID-19, this UPO programme remains in force, providing a valuable social benefit to both students and host families. This is the case of Jonny, a student who has lived in Montequinto for five years with Juan, a person with reduced mobility. “We are having a pretty good time in this situation, we play chess, we study English together and we do our private tasks, but mainly we talk and laugh a lot, we don’t have time to get bored”, Jonny explains, a student of the Degree in Economic Analysis. For his part, Juan thinks that this experience is not just a matter of living together, since this UPO student has become part of his family. “Living with Jonny is just like the life of any family who get along with. It is sometimes easier and others harder, but the loving environment that has been created between us always prevails. I have been very lucky”, Juan claims.
Led by the Volunteering and Solidarity Office of the Vice Chancellor’s Office for Culture and Social Commitment in the UPO, this programme offers free accommodation to the student in exchange for collaborating in small household chores. Thanks to a subsidy from the current Department of Equality, Social Policies and Conciliation of the Andalusian Regional Government, the family is paid a monthly amount of 80 € for all expenses which may arise from the communal living, such as electricity, water or heating.
However, the economic issue is not the reason why both parties decide to be part of the programme. Another couple who still live together today is a woman over 80 years old, who lives in the city of Salteras in Seville, and a student from Ecuador, who helps her partner make masks for her family, friends and the neighbourhood, in addition to her university work. “For both of us, being able to live this situation together makes us face each morning with more joy and hope”, both declare.
Another couple formed during this course, but whose coexistence ended days before the state of alarm was decreed, is the one composed by Belén, a lady of almost 90 years old, and Rocío, a student of the Degree in Social Education who has found in her companion a «grandmother of courage”. “I have learnt that age has nothing to do with vitality, I take a lot of love, joy, hope, and, above all, I have begun to value even more the things around me,» says Rocio, who declares that this program, more than a service or resource is «a great opportunity that life has given her».
The UPO has been committed to this programme since 2005, and to date more than 100 students have participated. «The long haul shows its great value. It is an artisan programme developed with much care by the UPO’s volunteer techniques. Each residential meeting is prepared and adapted to the people involved in such a way that the solidarity help among them achieves experiences that make them grow as people, avoiding isolation and loneliness», claims Elodia Hernández León, Vice Chancellor of Culture and Social Commitment. She adds that «in a moment of crisis and health emergency, like the one we are going through, it is when the importance of solidarity programs like this one is shown, which manage to break the vulnerability in which some people find themselves. My recognition to the team that develops and maintains these solidarity structures making very real the social commitment of our university».