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Experiences of older people

Here we gather together interviews with a selection of older people in various countries. They share their thoughts on the differing ways older people are treated today and their hopes and fears for the future

1999 Available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French

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From: Older people – Footsteps 39

Learning from and celebrating the contribution of older people to society

Here we gather together interviews with a selection of older people in various countries. They share their thoughts on the differing ways older people are treated today and their hopes and fears for the future.

Yourma Bawule – a widow from Ghana

Yourma Bawule is 65 and lives alone near Wa, NW Ghana. Her three children have moved away from their home area. Yourma commented that older people used to be treated with respect and dignity. ‘When a child handed something to an older person, they went down on their knees and remained there until asked to leave. The art of courtesy is now dead. Today’s young people think they know better than the old.’

‘There used to be a lot of food so older people could be generous. They would cook communally and share with younger people, giving them a sense of belonging and the gratitude of the younger people. Now generosity is only valued in terms of cash. I do not see any hope for the future. Many people are becoming poorer and poorer. Every day people are dying. Older people have stopped teaching the young out of frustration. Nothing can ever be like it was before.’
Contributed by Augustina Benlu

Retired Archbishop Silvanus Wani of Uganda

I met Archbishop Silvanus shortly after his retirement, riding his bicycle along a rural road. With no pension, he had come home to the northwest after living in comparative luxury in the capital, Kampala. Such treatment might have caused lesser men to feel resentment, but not Silvanus! He had his eyes on his Master and always put his own needs low down in his priorities. He considered this life was a pilgrimage, with a wonderful future ahead in heaven. In his retirement, he continued to do what he’d always done as Archbishop – preaching the gospel, teaching and encouraging everyone he met, particularly children and young people. He took Jesus at his word and followed him wholeheartedly to the end. He died last year.
Contributed by Joy Grindley, ex AIM, Uganda

Pascal Akouegnon – a farmer from Benin

Pascal used to be a farmer and hunter. He founded the village of Atchakpa where he still lives in Save, Benin, West Africa. When asked if older people were now treated differently he replied ‘Yes, certainly. In the good old days, particular attention was given to old men, especially in traditional Africa where they were considered as ‘living libraries of knowledge’. Today our fast changing world means that old people are seen as puzzling objects and people try to get rid of them as early as possible. People do not use our wisdom or our experience any more.’

‘I fear that our future rests on weak, even fragile, foundations. Future generations will probably be without any points of reference if we are not careful. My hopes for the future lie above all in the families who are educating their children to have respect for old people. Some families still do this in Africa. These are the rays of hope for tomorrow.’
Contributed by Appolinaire Gbaguidi, Benin

Margarita – a Spanish woman living in Chile

 ‘Life for older people is different today, because there used to be a lot more respect towards the elders. Parents are now even called nicknames by their children. Today old people may be listened to, but they are often treated without formality and sometimes made to feel left out. Youngsters are eager for knowledge of the way we used to live and want to know if it was better then. Our wisdom and experiences are ‘well used’ as they keep asking questions about the past.

In the future I hope that the standard of living will improve for all people, and that there will be less violence and delinquency so we can all live in safety. I have no fears for the future. My life has always been dedicated to religion, looking after youngsters in hostels. I do not fear death, as I know that it will be the way to see the Lord’s light.’
Contributed by Solange Angel, Chile

Veronika – living alone in Moldova

Veronika is 61 and lives in Ialoveni. She worked in a wine factory until her retirement. She remembers that her grandparents didn’t have many possessions but that they lived better than she lives today. Her parents lost their land to collective farms and their children have never received it back.

The age of retirement has risen in Moldova. Many pensioners lost their pensions when the state systems collapsed in 1990. Veronika feels that older people now receive nothing of value from the state. She has just received her tiny pension for March 1998, ten months late.

Veronika sadly does not have children of her own, but her nieces and nephews come to ask her advice. She feels she is well used in her extended family and community. She used to work hard to solve her own problems. Now no-one helps her and no-one is interested. Veronika has no hope for the future. When she thinks of the future she only thinks of bad things. As there is nobody to care for her, she hopes that God will help her to stay healthy.
From Stephen Brown, Mediterranean and Central Asia Team, Tearfund

Elizabeth Guillebaud, UK – still working at 84

 ‘My husband and I retired in 1986, having worked for over 40 years in Rwanda in both education and Bible translation. When we heard of the terrible genocide in 1994 in which several of our friends were killed, and saw so many people going to help who did not know the language, the culture or the Lord we wondered if we should return as we knew all three! On my 80th birthday I read of the call of Moses, aged 80, and we felt God was indeed calling us back. We returned for a year to help in listening to and counselling those who had lost so many loved ones. On our return to the UK my husband became ill and he died in November 1996. I decided to return to Uganda with my daughter in January 1997.

As a widow, I felt that I would be able to help the many widows and orphans. With the help of two other widows, we started a widows’ meeting for Bible teaching and to share problems and pray for each other. The numbers soon grew to 400 and we had to divide the meetings. Many have found that Jesus is the answer to their loneliness. They help each other in practical ways – even building houses for those in greatest need. They contribute weekly funds with which they buy rolls of material to sew a uniform dress and have found that this gives them status. I hope to continue this work as long as my health remains good.

I remember my own grandmother knitting by the fire. Older people today who have financial security can have a much fuller life, travelling and active in all sorts of ways. Here in Africa, my experience is well used, whereas in England I would not have been expected to contribute much. My fears for the future are of a stroke or other illness which would make me more of a burden than a blessing here in Byumba. My hopes for the future can best be expressed in the words of Philippians chapter 3:13-14.’

Mara Kallé – ex Chief of Cheddra, Chad

Mara Kallé is 81 and was Chief of Cheddra, an important trading centre in N Chad, for 58 years from 1928 to 1996. He was the first person to go to school in his village. ‘I followed my elders to learn from them.’ As the oldest son, he replaced his father as village chief when he died.

‘My grandparents lived happy lives. They taught us about history. As the village was not so large then, they controlled everybody and corrected those people who did not follow the traditions. In those days old people were treated much better than now. Each family appointed a child or a particular person to look after each old person in the family. In my family, we made sure our grandfather’s bedroom was clean and took turns to meet his needs.

But nowadays compare the situation of one of my neighbours, old Saleh. He’s an older man who is left to himself. Nobody looks after him, and so he is forced to beg and people think he is mad because he is so talkative. I fear that putting old people aside, as is the case with Saleh, means that young people lack advisors.

My experience and wisdom are still of some use in the village and certainly my advice on religious matters is followed. I am afraid, however, that young people follow other cultures without thinking about it, especially those of white people (Westerners), and they give up helping those who are in need. I am also afraid that young people are turning away from God. I would like our government to help old people a little.’
Contributed by Ngoniri Gos in Chad

Cécilie Siboniyo – a refugee in Burundi

Cécilie Siboniyo is aged 80 and lives in Buraniro Refugee camp, Butaganzwa-Kayanza, Burundi. ‘In the past children were well educated, better than nowadays. Children’s education was not just a family affair, but neighbours contributed to their discipline. That is why there was a Burundian saying, ‘Umwana n’uw’Igihugu’ (‘A child enriches the whole neighbourhood’). Children respected their elders and helped them in practical matters. Children were taught to have great respect for visitors, to whom one owed a warm welcome. Generally, there was an enviable social harmony.’

Cécilie certainly has fears for the future. ‘The bad behaviour of certain young people and the disease and damage caused by immorality and lack of discipline are frightening. Today it is not easy to educate children and young people have many distractions. They often do not take their parents’ advice seriously if they think their ideas are out of date.’

However, she has hope for the future because the authorities have become aware of the importance of an education with cultural values. The media are beginning to point the finger at the problems, in order to bring young people back into line.
Contributed by Claire Britton and Désiré Munezero, Tearfund Burundi

Abtwahi Al Hajj aged 77 in Ngozi, Burundi

‘In the past, children’s responsibilities extended to looking after old people. When a grandfather was in need, his grandchildren helped him. The family did everything they could to take him for healthcare. They worked as a community to plough his fields. School education has now reduced the amount of work children do within the family. They prefer their parents to cook for them so they have more time for studying. Respect and assistance to old people have diminished. Some young people who have completed their studies rarely visit their grandparents.’

These attitudes make him fear for the future. Young people are losing more and more the notion of the extended family and some are becoming addicted to alcohol. This leads to bad habits, a loss of cultural values and delinquency among many school leavers who are not prepared for country life.
Contributed by Claire Britton and Désiré Munezero, Tearfund Burundi

Jamkhed Women’s Group, India

‘In the old days women were confined to their home and fields and had little contact with neighbours. There were many feuds within families and not much real love between people. Husbands would control the money and usually waste a lot on drink and gambling. The different castes and religions had no contact with each other.

There is more respect now between elders and youngers. Mothers and daughters-in-law get on better. There is also a lot more freedom to meet people outside the home, including people of different castes and religions. Women tend to manage the finances instead of men and do a better job of it!’

The women feel their wisdom is now much better used than in the past. They have very few fears for the future, except during election time because of pressure from different political parties. In the future they hope there will be more girls’ education and for girls to be empowered in all of India, not just the area round Jamkhed. They would like to see women becoming involved in politics and becoming judges, because only women understand other women’s suffering and problems. They also hope for better sanitation and disease control and the freedom to travel.
Contributed by Anthony Titley, Asia Team, Tearfund

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