HomeTechIstanbul's Vefahane center empowers elderly citizens with tech

Istanbul’s Vefahane center empowers elderly citizens with tech

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The Vefahane Life Center in Istanbul’s Bağcılar helps elderly citizens embrace technology through private lessons. The center aims to help them navigate the digital world and connect with loved ones via social media platforms.

Unlike younger generations born into a tech-savvy era, older individuals accustomed to traditional communication devices face challenges adapting to the digital landscape that permeates modern life. Recognizing the importance of staying connected digitally, individuals aged 65 and above enroll in rigorous technology training sessions at this center to enhance their digital literacy skills.

Equipped with smartphones, either gifted by their children or acquired independently, elderly students dive into lessons guided by dedicated instructors like Fatma Koç.

With personalized attention, Koç ensures that students learn to operate their smartphones efficiently, from sending photos via WhatsApp to utilizing location services for making hospital appointments through the Central Physician Appointment System (MHRS).

Stating that his students first opened an Instagram account to follow Vefahane Life Center, Koç said: “People come here from many different places to learn how to use technology to bridge the gap with their children or grandchildren. They listen to music, learn recipes on the YouTube application, book online appointments, and so on.”

One of the students, 58-year-old Hatice Alsaç, said, “My life has become easier. It’s been a year since I bought a smartphone to virtually connect with my son, who lives in another city.”

One of the students, 60-year-old Türkan Güngör, said that she had never had a phone before and that she bought this device when she started attending training at the center.

Güngör said: “I want to learn everything, although I think I’m late and couldn’t live my childhood to the fullest. I’ve been in Istanbul for 40 years, and it’s the first time I’ve come across such a center.”

“My daughter was teaching me too, but since she is working, she couldn’t give me proper time. However, here, the teachers are very cooperative. I just opened my Facebook account. I have three children and two grandchildren and I now follow them on social media and learn about their activities. I feel the connection,” said Güngör.

Expressing her excitement further, Güngör said: “I sent my first message to my eldest son, ‘How are you? My dear son, are you OK?’ My son was surprised to receive my message and asked me where I learned to use social media.”

A 62-year-old Zeliha Şimşek, one of the students, stated that it has been one year since she bought a smartphone and that she learned to use most applications on the phone with the training at the center.

Stating that she downloaded Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp applications on her phone and added her friends and relatives, Şimşek said, “My husband watches movies on TV at home and I watch news, politics and music programs on my phone. I look at handicraft videos and brain games. I video call with my friends and feel the sense of connection,” she said.

Gülferiye Yıldız, 70, one of the students who uses the smartphone most effectively, said that she had previously asked her children to buy bus tickets to her summer house in Tekirdağ, but now she buys them online herself.

“We have a WhatsApp group with our friends here. Our teachers use it to send us messages whenever there’s something happening. For instance, they’ll inform us about a meeting or an iftar dinner. Apart from that, I am part of a neighborhood group, a separate one with my children, and a separate group for arranging meetups. We communicate our plans and send voice messages to our grandchildren. Although I’m not much of a phone user, I make time for it, especially in the mornings, to greet our day group with a ‘Good morning, friends’ message. Sometimes, I’ll share a photo of myself enjoying tea with a ‘Good evening’ note. Additionally, I send messages on Fridays. Since my husband passed away, living alone, these groups have become like friends to me,” said Yıldız.

A mobile phone is necessary but one should not overdo it when using it, Yıldız warned.

As these older adults master social media platforms and embrace digital communication, their newfound skills empower them to socialize, manage personal transactions independently, and stay connected with family members, marking a significant step toward bridging the digital divide across generations.

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