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Ethiopia proves old is gold

Kenya can pick valuable lessons from a project in Ethiopia that engages 824 elderly people in income-generating activities, provides free care for the bedridden and even organises funerals when they die

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

There is an assumption that elderly people in the society are unproductive and a burden to their families. But an organisation in Ethiopia is defying this stereotype by empowering older persons to use their skills and experiences to engage in income-generating activities.

Through these activities, the elderly generate an income to sustain themselves and grandchildren that depend on them. Eneredada Elder People Association Centre in Addis Ababa is a hive of activity. Women hand spin piles of cotton wool into yarn and whip up meals amid conversations and laughter.

Men are quietly engrossed in weaving the yarn into pieces of cloth. There is visible enjoyment and palpable sense of belonging as the elders mostly in their 60s, 70s and 80s collectively keep busy.

“The centre offers funding and training to the elderly to help sustain them and make a contribution to the society long after retirement,” says Aman Wabe, Manager Eneredada Elder People Association. Amisale Charinet, 62, has been working in the elderly centre as a cook and cleaner for close to 10 years.

Before joining the elderly home, she hawked tea and coffee in the streets of Addis Ababa. “The job could not sustain me and when I got an opportunity to work in the centre I opted out of the business,” says Charinet.

From her job at the centre, the mother of one gets regular meals every day and earns 1,000 Ethiopian birr (equivalent to Sh4,000) per month, which has enabled her to rent a house and sustain herself. Like most African countries, Ethiopia has a predominantly young population.

However, there has been a steady increase in people that are living beyond the age of 60 years, leading to a burgeoning elderly population. Generally, Africa is not properly equipped to handle this demographic. Most elderly in African countries have no access to income.

“A Majority of governments in Africa have no policy for universal pension and few elders that is retired civil servants have pension.

Others in informal employment have no reliable source of income exposing them to destitute living conditions,” says Roseline Kihumba, International and Regional Policies Coordinator, Help Age International, an international NGO championing the welfare of the elderly.

Kenya has made progress in its efforts to take care of the elderly after the launch of Universal Pension in March for people above the age of 70 years. Eneredada, which means let us help each other was started in 1997 to help poor and destitute older people in the community.

It has 824 elders and 1,000 children who depend on them. Older persons benefit from monthly cash transfers, free house rent loans and employment.

The strong elderly receive a revolving loan of (4,000 Ethiopian birr) Sh16,000 to enable them to start small business in cooking, weaving, spice-making and recycling waste.

The organisation helps them look for markets for their products. Bedridden elders are given free medication, daily meals clothing and psychosocial support. “Elders get their hair made, clothes washed and also take a shower every week at the daycare centre,” says Aman.

Loneliness is one of the biggest problems that face the elderly. To curb this, the centre organises sports activities, regular coffee ceremonies and conservation activities such as planting trees where the elderly can meet and catch up.

They also get to spend time together during national holidays and other celebrations such as Mother’s Day. An agreement between the centre and churches ensures that the elders get a decent send-off after they pass away through free funeral service.

There are about 30 similar organisations across Ethiopia helping the country harness the demographic dividend of the elderly.

Currently, Kenya has few elderly centres with similar livelihood projects. There is, however, room for Kenya to upscale its efforts in this area to ensure that the elderly live a more dignified lives.

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