During the coronavirus pandemic, Ghent observed a surge in the need for psychological support among its most vulnerable citizens. To take better care of them, the Belgian city mobilized 50 health guides during the lockdown, who offered their ears at the front door, over the telephone or over chat. Now, thanks to funding from the Flemish government, the project can be continued, Gent informed on its website on Wednesday.
Reaching out to those who need help the most
The so-called health guides working in Gent are trained volunteers who are familiar with the problems of vulnerable residents. Their job is to show them the way to health and welfare facilities, but sometimes to simply talk to them and give them friendly advice.
The City of Ghent has been working with health guides since 2019 when it engaged and provided quick training to about 20 guides. The latter have already guided a total of 250 people to the correct information or help.
However, with the lockdown and social isolation, it soon became clear that many more will need psychosocial support and health education. That is why more volunteers were temporarily recruited and trained in collaboration with the Centre for General Practice of Ghent University.
The volunteers went out to support people from door to door, but they also started working online. In six weeks, more than 350 conversations took place, both physically and digitally. The volunteers guided about 75 vulnerable people and families through this difficult period.
Now, thanks to project financing of around 200,000 euros from the Flemish government, the City of Ghent can further upgrade the initiative. The 20 permanent health guides will continue to work, and additional volunteers will be recruited to strengthen the team.
Moreover, many of these volunteers have themselves been in vulnerable groups, which helps them create a stronger bond with those they visit. Also, some of them speak foreign languages which brings significant added value for ethnic and cultural minority groups.