Volunteers' Experiences Delivering a Community-University Chronic Disease Health Awareness Program for South Asian Older Adults

J Community Health. 2017 Dec;42(6):1148-1155. doi: 10.1007/s10900-017-0364-1.


Volunteers and voluntary organizations can connect preventative health care programs to communities and may play an important role in addressing the health needs of older adults. Despite this, tensions may exist in the structures that drive volunteers and voluntary organizations representing immigrant communities to provide unpaid labour to augment and supplement health care services. Furthermore, organizational challenges may exist for community agencies relying on volunteers to sustain a health screening and education program. The intervention program was led by one voluntary agency specifically for South Asian communities in partnership with the university and five local organizations. This paper draws on volunteer surveys (n = 22) and key informant interviews (n = 12) to detail volunteer experiences providing this intervention. Volunteers were university students and other community volunteers. A total of 810 adults participated in the intervention within the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada between October 2014 and June 2016. We found that volunteers often used their experience as a 'stepping stone' position to other education or work. They also gained from the knowledge and used it to educate themselves and their family members and friends. This paper provides a critical reflection on the role of volunteers in a preventative and educational healthcare intervention program for older adults from the South Asian community. Tensions exist when relying on volunteer labour for the implementation of preventative community health care programming and must be explored to ensure program sustainability as well as equity within the health care system.

Keywords: Health education; Preventative community health care; South Asian older adults; Voluntary sector; Volunteers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asia / ethnology
  • Chronic Disease* / ethnology
  • Chronic Disease* / prevention & control
  • Chronic Disease* / therapy
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion* / methods
  • Health Promotion* / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Narration
  • Ontario
  • Public Health / methods*
  • Universities
  • Volunteers / psychology*