Friday, January 15, 2010

Gambia: 82,807 Elderly Living in the Country

NEWS BANJUL, THE GAMBIA (MB) - In the Gambia, there are 82,807 elderly people living in the country, according to the Coordinator of Ageing with a Smile Initiative (ASI), Mr. Balamusa Joof while quoting from the Gambia Bureau of Statistic (GBoS) at the official launching of the Organisation on the 9th January 2010 at the Kanifing Municipal Council’s Ground.
According to Joof, today’s society has been built by the concerted efforts of previous generations of people “who have worked extremely hard to get us where we are now” adding that when we talk about the elderly, they always narrates stories how they had struggled to bring food to the family, pay for education, built the homes and ensure that our security is to the maximum.
With all this, he said some of them are very old more especially the women saying that as we celebrates the new year with sending cards to loves ones, visiting them at homes, going to night clubs, some of them are in their dark rooms with all their windows open with little help from family members.
In the Gambia, he explained it is often believed that traditions of respect mean that the elderly are adequately supported by the family; this Joof pointed out is not the case nowadays.
Nowadays there are even instances when older people are abused socially, physically, economically and psychologically, their basic human rights such as the right to life, liberty, food, health, freedom from discrimination are all violated in their daily lives.
These old people, he went on, are as diverse as farmers, teachers, fishermen/ women, religions leaders, politicians, drivers, tailors, health workers, carpenters, cleaners, dock workers and security officers serving their nation with pride.
According to him, most of the old have worked under hard, difficult and in some cases dangerous conditions “to give us their best” noting that “we are gathered here today to pay tribute to their efforts and sacrifices and appeal to the younger generation to continue giving them back what they has cultivated for us to reap the fruits.”
Mr. Joof stated that majority of older people in Africa work in the informal sector and despite advancing age, they continue to work to support their families until they find it physically impossible to do so.
In addition, older people supports their families by caring for children at homes, managing the home and taking part in agricultural work. They also make valuable contributions to society as guardians of traditions and cultural values passed from generation to generation.
“As nature dictates, at a certain stage in their lives, heroes and heroines, who were once strong active and independent become frail and weak and in many case need support especially during the last days of lives”.
ASI coordinator mentioned that the elderly people should be guaranteed better living conditions for meaningful transition to old age, as he put it, it should be our collective responsibility to ensure that they have good health and proper living conditions whilst encouraging their participation active in leisure, sporting and cultural programmes.
On the organizations definition that is elderly, Joof said, ASI definitions of an elderly are someone who has attained the age of sixty (60) years and above. This he added is consistent with the United Nations definition of an elderly person.
Although, the family remains the most important source of support for older people in The Gambia and in many parts of Africa, family structures are changing and traditional patterns of care are no longer guaranteed for many elders, he said loudly and clearly.
Giving examples, Joof stated that urbanization is resulting in many older people now living alone in rural areas as many of the young folk is making ends meet in the urban centre, in which most of the elderly are receiving support from them while they were taking care by the old in days passes.
Another point, he stressed is economic pressures and changing social values makes many families are either unable or unwilling to care for older relatives. “We are therefore, witnessing a gradual disintegration of the extended family system thus rendering it ineffective in its role as a social security institution.”
He also spoke at length about the objectives of ASI saying that as part of their objectives is to improve access to basic health care services for disadvantaged elderly people, improve the re-integration of the elderly in Gambian social life, and promote inter-generation dialogue and to advocate for the rights of the elderly in the country.
To achieve this, he said ASI is with the strong believed and has already started a wide range of activities that includes the provision of routine health check ups for the elderly in their homes. This he said includes checking the elders’ capacity to earn a living and participate in family and community life among other services.
Revival of positive traditional roles of the elderly in Gambian social life such as story telling, riddles and knitting, with modern communication technologies, saying that “we now have opportunities to record the knowledge and experiences of the elderly and share it with a much audience”, he emphasized.
The work of ASI, Joof mentioned is being implemented by five working groups that respond to the diverse needs of the elderly in a comprehensive and integrated way and this groups are ; the medical and home visiting team, social events , the functioning and resource mobilization, advocacy and sensitization and research and publication team.
People identify for support by the Organisation, ASI coordinator revealed should be based in one of the following that is the person has attained the age of 60 years and above, the person has poor health such as physical disability, poor vision, with heard of hearing, arthritis, recovering from stroke, hypertension, diabetic, malnutrition etc, the person does not have adequate attention from family members and neighbours as a result of which he or she feels lonely and the old person is economically poor and does not have adequate support from family members or other organizations to lead a healthy and dignified life.
He concluded by saying that ASI can only meet its objectives with the support of the government, the business community, non-governmental organizations, and the public at large.

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