“Gran, tell me a story”, or why ladies from a senior citizens’ home read stories to children


Old, isolated, lonely but with hearts still going strong – they give because that is what they are best at. Every week the ladies from the St. Basil the Great residence for senior citizens in Plovdiv sit down with children from kindergartens, book in hand. And their words seem to weave a magical carpet that takes the children far away to the world of fairytales.

The “Gran, tell me a story” project of the Generations Together foundation came into being after meeting the people from the residence for senior citizens and the headmistress of the Zornitsa kindergarten. The kids and their teachers from “Valentina” kindergarten also take active part in the lessons and readings.

“Once they start living in an institution the elderly people feel isolated and lose the feeling that they can still be useful,” says Margarita Gancheva, chairperson of the organization.

Margarita Gancheva (right)

The first person to have mustered the courage to go and meet the children was granny Mina, and then many of the women from the home followed suit.

“To begin with the idea was for the elderly ladies to read fairytales but we noticed that the children needed more – conversation, relationships, attention,” Margarita Gancheva goes on to say. “The grannies always start with a fairytale but the children often interrupt to ask questions. And, of course, there’s hugs and laughter. Teachers call these sessions “school of life”, because the women talk to the children about so many different things, including finance – how to save up money, what to buy from the store. Sometimes they bake cakes together or draw, do arithmetic or listen to music. The time spent in this way really is precious – for the children and for the elderly. These "life lessons" are joined actively by the children and their teachers from Valentina kindergarten."

But why do children prefer to have granny tell them stories?

“It is something different – to hear granny tell a story,” Margarita Gancheva goes on to say. “A lady of a grand old age inspires respect, exudes confidence and wisdom. The idea is to throw a bridge between generations as each one of them has its own mission and energy. Regrettably, nowadays these bridges seem to be rickety but a generation that does not pick up where the previous generation left off is bound to fail.”

The elderly women who go to the kindergartens are doing something that really is good, and this good comes back to them. Every Saturday morning volunteers return the favour and go to the senior citizens’ home to give of their energy and soak in some wisdom. Children aged 2 and ladies and gentlemen aged 60 join in an initiative called “Visiting with grandma and grandpa together” – another one of the foundation’s projects. And they do so with one purpose in mind – to communicate. Together, talking to one another, going to the theatre or on picnics, or via an unorthodox “facebook” page.

Feel younger, regardless of age!

“Gran’s page” is not online, it is in fact a notice board where we write down a maxim every week. We have put down quotes by Mother Theresa, quatrains, or something they have come up with – a wish for doing good, words of inspiration or a good example. And people then sit down and think about the words on the notice board.”

Though they are together at the home, they still feel lonely – most have suffered some kind of loss, and they feel unwanted and unneeded.

“This is an isolation imposed by society in which retirees are considered “second hand”, Margarita Gancheva explains. “But they have worked all their lives and at 70, have so much life experience, that is why we, from Generations Together want to partake of the things they know, to throw a bridge between generations.”

The people from the Generations Together foundation do not think they are doing anything special when they spend a weekend with the senior citizens.

“It is a normal thing for us to give our attention to the needy, to spend quality time with someone who needs to be heard. We want to bring back the spirit of humaneness, to help every generation find their own place and to realize their worth, to accept what they are and pass on the baton,” Margarita Gancheva says in conclusion.

Photos: private library

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