GEWIS stands for Goed En Wel In Samenzijn, which translates as ‘Being Good and Well in Unity’. The association was founded in 1977 in order to give retired colleagues from the (at the time) fledgeling university the opportunity to stay connected to 'their' UT. That bond with the UT - which is still their UT - and their bond with one another remain very strong amongst the approximately 365 GEWIS members, says chairman Cees van Vilsteren. ‘At other universities, such a strong connection can only be felt at the faculty level, whereas at the UT, it stretches across the whole of the university. Disciplinary boundaries, ranks, and positions do not play a role; all members are equal and know each other well. The same is true of their partners, because GEWIS is explicitly also intended for the pensioners' partners.’
Hungry for knowledge
Usually, GEWIS has one of the busiest activity calendars of all of the UT-Kring’s sub-associations. Wednesday is hiking day, and every week, there are opportunities to swim and play sports together on the campus. In addition, once every two to three weeks, GEWIS organises an activity that feeds the hunger for knowledge that is still felt by many of the retired UT employees. Van Vilsteren: 'Our members have a broad interest and are keen to learn new things and gain new experiences.’ According to him, there is absolutely no shortage of ideas. ‘Sometimes we have a lecture on butterflies, whilst other times, we delve into the subject of robotics.’
Spoiling the fun
Unfortunately, GEWIS members have now been missing out on these activities for a long time. Of course, coronavirus is the culprit. ‘Because of their age, our members are amongst the most vulnerable groups and we do not want to risk anyone getting infected via us,' explains the chairman. When the weather conditions were not so wintery yet, the outside air offered a good alternative: The general assembly of members took place at the open-air theatre. Van Vilsteren: 'And that very same place, the gentlemen who produce the UT beer told us more about their brew and showed us a beautiful beer fountain.’ However, sadly, it has now really become too chilly. Therefore, the members of GEWIS also resort to online activities. ‘Most of our members are quite digitally savvy. And for those who are not able to figure out Microsoft Teams by themselves, we offer assistance,' says Van Vilsteren.
Looking after each other
Whilst (online) contact is better than having no contact at all, GEWIS will be only too happy when the approximately sixty out of eighty meetings on their annual calendar no longer have to make way for the coronavirus. GEWIS has an important social function. ‘If you want it to be, GEWIS can be a club of friends for you', it says on the website - and according to the chairman, this is not a hollow promise. ‘All of GEWIS’s members have reached a respectable age. Everyone is getting older, more vulnerable, and increasingly encounters illness and loss. Also, in this sense, GEWIS members can mean a lot to each other. This is a very natural process; when we are together, we are able to pick up the signals. We always take the conscious decision to take a nice long break during our meetings at Boerderij Bosch , so that people have ample opportunity to talk to each other. This explains why it are not only the more “substantial” activities that are being missed, such as the Christmas dinner and the bus trip, but precisely also our “ordinary” gatherings. The GEWIS members are simply so important to each other.'