Bridging the Gap: Youth-Run Technology Classes Empower Older South Asian American Communities
Saahas For A Cause on the importance of digital access for seniors.
By Roshni Kohli, Anisha Chitta, Prisha Desai, Siya Mishra, and Aditi Kulkarani
Zoom, WhatsApp, Microsoft Office, and smartphones are just some digital tools and technologies that many of us take for granted, but they can be out of reach for older Americans. The youth chapter of the nonprofit Saahas for a Cause, Saahas Youth, is making it easier for older adults to improve their digital literacy in a series of classes, including incorporating Hindi into the classroom.
What are Saahas Youth’s Technology Classes?
The mission of our technology classes is to bridge the gap between the youth and South Asian seniors. Saahas in California is split into two teams, our Irvine team and our Cerritos team, who alternate in doing the presentations and topics are based on the requests of our seniors. Topics that our volunteers have taught in the past include the workings of WhatsApp, the ins-and-outs of Zoom, important aspects of the iPhone, and how to edit photos. These topics empower participants to connect with their community online. Expanding digital access is particularly important for Asian American communities that may face language barriers or may have historically been excluded from digital platforms.
Our presentations are split into two segments: our PowerPoints, and interactive breakout rooms. Our PowerPoints cover basic technology concepts, some of which are used daily, and others which are used for separate occasions. We make sure that each PowerPoint has several images, and easy-to-understand text.
After we finish our presentations, we put the seniors into breakout rooms, where they can receive individual attention for any questions they might have that were not answered in our presentations. Our breakout rooms are the most important portions of our presentations: The seniors benefit from the individua attention, and our volunteers benefit from the valuable lessons learned from teaching and explaining these concepts. Our breakout rooms build a valuable rapport since the seniors and our volunteers are engaged in an intimate learning environment.
Mediums we Cover and Special Accommodations
In our tech classes, lay out everything that the seniors would be interested in, especially since the pandemic is keeping everybody indoors, leaving the internet to be the only way to stay in touch. After every tech class we present, we ask the seniors what they would like to learn next. The seniors especially love learning about social media because they like to stay connected with others during these trying times. In fact, Saahas uses many social media platforms, such as Facebook, to inform the seniors upcoming tech classes. To ensure that seniors can understand what we teach them, the Saahas Youth team tries to use Hindi along with English as much as possible. Most of the seniors understand English, but feel more comfortable with Hindi, which is why some of our team members translate our presentations to Hindi.
Along with language, we also make sure that all bases of a smartphone are covered. We explain how to access different applications and features on different types of devices like Androids and iPhones. Understanding how applications and devices operate can empower individuals to better exercise their privacy rights and avoid misinformation or other online risks. How tech savvy each senior is varies, so we must make sure that each and every one of them is accommodated appropriately.
The importance of mental health and wellbeing and challenges of a virtual classroom
For many seniors, being in America, being away from their family and friends can be lonely and depressing. As many of the volunteers at Sahaas Youth are not able to be with their grandparents, they want to help the seniors in their community and give back. To help prevent loneliness, our youth volunteers bring fun and interactive technology classes every month to help the seniors stay connected with their family and friends. We have also received a lot of positive feedback from our seniors which encourages us to come back each month with improved presentations. In our in-person classes before the pandemic, teaching was easier. We could see how the seniors reacted to each topic and cater our lessons around their queries. During the pandemic, all our classes are on Zoom. It is harder to teach but we feel that these classes are more important now than ever before. These classes lift the spirits of our seniors and give the youth something to look forward to during these uncertain times.
How we make our classes effective
With English being a second language for most of the senior citizens attending our tech classes, the Saahas Youth Tech Team tries to make the technology lessons as simple as possible. We try to include as many pictures as possible as well as other media types, and, when covering a topic, we teach the basics of the subject to ensure that these seniors aren’t too overwhelmed. Furthermore, we ask the seniors to fill out a small poll at the end of the presentation so we know what topics they want to know more about and how satisfied they are with the lesson. This helps our tech team improve and revise our presentation to make it as effective as possible. In the end, our goal is that they can go home having learned something new that they can apply in their daily lives. With technology advancing every day, our goal is to help senior citizens who aren’t as comfortable with technology, learn the basics on how to use it with sufficiency and ease. Asian American populations like this one may be underrepresented in larger outreach and tech literacy programs; tailoring to seniors’ language and interest needs is critical to ensuring their inclusion.
Personal Takeaways from a Youth Volunteer
Although the main goal of Saahas Youth Tech Team is to educate seniors on the complexities of technology, there is a lot that we have learned from this experience as well. Hosting these informative sessions has not only given us a better understanding of the devices we use, but has provided us with valuable life lessons on being able to give back to the community and teaching new and convenient methods of navigating the world. The patience and proper work ethic that is attached to being a good teacher is something that is acquired through the practice of teaching. Being able to guide the seniors on advancements in technology allows us to perfect these qualities. Additionally, seeing the seniors smile at the end of a lesson is very satisfying as it tells us that we have successfully provided them with the information they need to communicate with their loved ones from any distance. Overall, our goal as a team is for technology to make our lives easier, not harder. These lessons aimed at presenting the concepts in a less daunting way lets us spread our knowledge and create a society where everyone can communicate with ease.
Roshni Kohli, Anisha Chitta, Prisha Desai, Siya Mishra, and Aditi Kulkarani are members of the youth chapter of Saahas for a Cause. Learn more about the organization at www.saahasforcause.org.