Savonia Article: Community supporting healthy aging and rehabilitation in Groningen Netherlands


We participated a summer-school in Hanze University for Applies Sciences (Groningen, Netherlands) as a part of our Master’s degree studies and a course of Working and studying in an international environment.

The Summer-school in Future Health lasted for three weeks. There were 21 in social and health care Bachelor’s students from USA and Canada. Us, four Finnish students and one teacher, participated one-week trip. Our participation was a pilot in Erasmus+ program and we were instructed to work as a mentors for the Bachelor’s students.

The themes of the summer school were Future Health and Healthy Ageing. In the beginning of our week, we were given a health challenge: how to add +5 healthy years to the average lifespan in Netherlands and how to decrease 30 % health disparities. We worked with this challenge for a week. There were lectures, group work, and excursions on four different rehabilitation centers. One solution for the given challenge was community prevention. In this article, we will focus on how the community that we are part of, is important in healthy ageing.

Excursion 1: Stadsboerderij Boegbeeld’s healthcare farm

Seinässä maalauksia.

Picture 1. Health Care farm Stadsboerderij Boegbeeld (Taala 2023, CC BY-SA)

We had the pleasure to visit Stadsboerderij Boegbeeld, a healthcare farm in Groningen. The main purpose of the farm was to give meaning and a sense of belonging through work to people with an intellectual disability. At this facility, clients maintain an animal farm and a small café that are both open to the public. (De Ziljen publication date unknown.)

Netherlands is one of the pioneers in care farming. Care farms serves a wide range of participants. Strong regional organizations have professionalized and established care farming, although there are a number of challenges, like gaining access to land and a lack of recognition in the case of social farming in urban areas. (van der Meulen & Plug 2020, 1.) But the benefits are also easy to recognize: a green environment, a safe community, and a useful and versatile activities to name a few (Elings, Hassink, van den Nieuwenhuizen, Smit & Zweekhorst 2010).

One of the clients in Stadsboerderij Boegbeeld, gave us a tour on the farm, which was decorated beautifully, as shown in the picture 1. Taking care of the pigs was his task. It was heard warming to see, how good relationship he had with them. Napping pigs came to greet him, when he jumped out of his wheelchair and climbed inside the pen. You could hear a sense of pride in his voice, when he told us that the animals were always clean and being taken care of well. He had been working there over 15 years and he actually made a joke “I’ll leave this place only in a coffin”. One indication of how meaningful the farm is to him, was that he is going to celebrate his wedding there in a month and his colleagues will take part in the planning and implementation.

Excursion 2: Visio – treatment and rehabilitation center for people with vision impairments

When people are getting older, vision impairments increase. Cataract and refractive errors are the most common cause of blindness and vision loss at the +50 years of age.  (Flaxman etc. 2017, 1221.) In the Netherlands it is estimated that more than half of visual impairments could be prevented with vision screening and awareness campaigns for elderly people (Limburg & Keunen 2009, 362). There are many methods for low vision rehabilitation which aim is to increase function in daily life and support the use of residual vision. Still from these diverse types of rehabilitation methods, no evidence has been found of their effectiveness on health-related quality of life (Nispen etc. 2020, 2). It is obvious that vision rehabilitation needs more good quality research.

For people who have vision impairments in The Netherlands, there is a treatment and rehabilitation center Visio (Visio publication date unknown). The Visio unit we had the privilege to visit was focused on taking care of intellectually and sensory disabled people. Clients lived there in their own apartments, and they had round-the-clock treatment available for them. There were some workers who were also visually impaired taking care of the services and surroundings. We saw workspaces, such as a small candle factory, shop, post and animal farm, where visually impaired people could use their talents and gain a feeling of self efficasy.

The surrounding village is also an important part of the Visio community. Children from the village can visit the animal farm at the weekends and clients go shopping in the village with their aide from Visio. Visio made effort to be part of a larger community, not live so that people with intellectual and sensory disabilities were hidden and isolated. It was clear that all workers there did their jobs with a big open heart.

Community spirit in Groningen

Katu ja rakennuksia.

Picture 2. Urban culture in Groningen (Taala 2023, CC BY-SA)

Groningen is said to be youthful and vibrant town – and that it certainly is! On the first day we arrived and walked around the city, it felt like jumping into a movie set because the beautiful, colorful old houses and murals (as in picture 2.), canals with houseboats, busy cafés and restaurants, small second hand and design boutiques and the bikers speeding around from left and right. From our Dutch teacher we heard that people really do cycle everywhere, even from a distance. Roads are narrow and there are no parking lots. The city isn’t packed with cars. That space is taken over by people. On a sunny day people gathered to the canals and parks to have a picnic, listening to music and playing sports. And there are well-kept open gardens for people to enjoy. Behind every corner there is something interesting to see: historical buildings, street food stands, colorful murals and street art and flower plantings. All this left us wonder, what is the impact of the urban structural planning for citizens well-being and in the feeling of community spirit and belonging?

Community spirit among students

One thing we couldn’t anticipate beforehand, was the importance of the peer support we four Finnish students got from each other. After a long day at school, communicating in English with professional vocabulary among native English speakers, it was relieving to be able to share your experiences in Finnish with fellow students. We were able to go through the assignments and reflect our experiences working in our separate international teams.

Surprisingly we all shared similar observations of the cultural differences in a teamwork. We were impressed by the speed and efficiency of the North American students and the effortless use of technology in sharing documents and making presentations simultaneously. But we missed conversations where all thoughts and aspects are shared before assigning individual tasks. They worked so fast and effectively, that it left us wonder, if they have any time to enjoy the learning process?

Our experiences from working in these international teams made us think, that we valued more teamwork where every opinion is heard and respected, and assignments are handed equally, even though it would take more time. It’s better to work together rather than show your own individual skills and knowledge. For us, the learning process meant more than the grade from the assignment. Teamwork skills are one way to exploit power of community spirit.

Final conclusions

All participations in this Summer School were from welfare states and we learned that we shared the same challenges: people are getting older, living more sicker lives and there aren’t enough of resources. We learned different ways to influence on future health. In USA you make campaigns to increase peoples knowledge, in Netherlands you try to influence on collective prevention.

All and all if you would ask was the trip worth to do, we would say yes. We saw new ways to study and work. Studying this way hasn’t been possible on our remote and online studies. We all got good immersion teaching in English. We appreciate having this opportunity and would like to thank Savonia and Hanze for this experience!

Authors: Leena Hartikainen and Eevaleena Taala, Master`s degree program of rehabilitation. Savonia University of Applied Sciences.


De Ziljen publication date unknown. Website. Referred to 14.8.2023.

Elings, Marjolein, Hassink, Jan, van den Nieuwenhuizen, Noor, Smit, Annet & Zweekhorst, Marjolein 2010. Health & Place. Volume 16, Issue 3, May 2010, Pages 423-430. Referred to 14.8.2023.

Flaxman, Seth, Bourne, Rupert, Resnikoff, Serge, Ackland, Peter, Braithwaite, Tasanee, Cicinelli, Maria, Das, Aditi, Jonas, Jost, Keeffe, Jill, Kempen, John, Leasher, Janet, Limburg, Hans, Naidoo, Kovin, Pesudovs, Konrad, Silvester, Alex, Stevens, Gretchen, Tahhan, Nina, Wong, Tien & Taylor, Hugh 2017. Global causes of blindness and distance vision impairments 1990-2020: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Global Healt 5, 1221—1234. Referred to 14.8.2023.

Limburg, Hans & Keunen, Jan 2009. Blindness and low vision in The Netherlands from 2000 to 2020—modeling as a tool for focused intervention. Ophthalmic Epidemiology 16, 362—369. Referred to 14.8.2023.

Nispen, Ruth, Virgili, Gianni, Hoeben, Mirke, Langelaan, Maaike, Klevering, Jeroen, Keunen, Jan & van Rens, Ger 2020. Low vision rehabilitation for better quality of life in visually impaired adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Referred to 14.8.2023.

van der Meulen, Harold. A.B., & Plug, Lana. B. 2020. The Care Farming Sector in The Netherlands: A Reflection on Its Developments and Promising Innovations. Referred to 14.8.2023.

Visio publication date unknown. Website. Referred to 14.8.2023.