Lawrence Munyua and his friends have been lending a hand to the older persons in their community by giving them care and attention
Evelyn Makena @evemake_g
Barely a second after you start reading this article, two people across the world will have turned 60 years old. Two minutes into reading this, 120 people will have turned 60 years.
With two people turning 60 every second, and the number of people over 60 years expected to be more than one billion in the next 10 years, the reality is that the world is growing old at a fast rate.
Due to improved healthcare and technological breakthroughs, longevity has become one of the breakthroughs of our generation.
But while living older is a welcome idea, the dilemma as the World marked International Day of Older Persons last Monday has been to figure out what life will be or is for the growing older population.
It’s that same dilemma that Lawrence Munyua and few of his friends were battling with in 2005 when the idea to reach out to the older persons was borne. “We were a group of five friends and we all felt older persons in our communities were neglected.
Each one of us either had a parent, in law or neighbour that was an older person. The dominant feeling was that, we could do more to ensure they lived dignified lives,” he says.
In the ensuing months, the five joined hands with other like-minded individuals and formed the Elderly Society of Kenya, an organisation that advocates for the rights and improved lives for the elderly.
The organisation, which comprises a 15-member committee, has been reaching out to older persons groups across the country identifying their pressing needs and responding to them with solutions.
Currently, they are working with over 30 older persons groups in Nyeri, Embu, Kiambu, Busia, Taita Taveta and Nairobi counties. Among the challenges faced by older persons are social isolation, immobility, hunger and deteriorating health that comes with advanced age. It is estimated that 40-46 per cent of older people have physical impairment and a chronic illness that needs care.
Yet, at the time when they are most vulnerable due to waning physical strength, unstable income and diminishing mental alertness many older people find themselves battling these issues on their own. Depending on the pressing need of different older persons groups, members contribute buy foodstuff, offer access to medical care and decent shelters for the older persons.
“Many older persons experience urine or faecal incontinence and shy away from social interactions. We distribute adult diapers to them to restore their dignity,” says Lawrence. Through a partnership with Ahadi Kenya, the organisation distributes shoes and slippers to older persons.
To reach out to more older persons, the organisation has four major events across the year that entail free medical camps, distribution of foodstuff, clothes and spiritual nourishment.
“We also invite lawyers to represent elderly people with issues such as inheritance and boundaries in court. Currently, we are working with few lawyers who represent the older persons pro bono,” adds Lawrence.
A lively and energetic woman, Mary Wambeere delights in the company that she gets whenever older people gather for various events organised by the organisation. A resident of Kikuyu and a mother of two, who lives alone after her children moved out, occasionally battles with loneliness.
Seeing the kindness accorded to older persons by the organisation for her, is a reminder that she is still loved and not forgotten. “It’s so touching to see strangers care for us older persons.
Sometimes it moves me to tears when I walk into an event with an empty basket and leave with it full of foodstuff, clothes and with a full stomach,” says the 70-year-old woman.
The long-term plan for the organisation is to construct a model home where older persons can live in a dignified way in their sunset years. They envision to have a place that everybody in the society regardless of social status, class and level of wealth can comfortably retreat to when they are old.
The organisation that mainly depends on the contributions of the members invites well-wishers and partners to help expand the work of taking care of older persons and ensuring that none of them is neglected.
“The first responsibility for caring for older persons lies with their family. The community also has a moral responsibility of supporting its aging population,” says Lawrence.