NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – In our African set up, the old in our society are respected and always a pillar of wisdom, but with ‘modernization’ things are changing.
The old are being neglected, creating need for care homes like Nyumba ya Wazee, a home to more than 60 elderly people in Nairobi’s Kasarani area.
They were taken there after their relatives and probably the society where they hail from started seeing them as a burden.
But on Wednesday, they had a reason to smile, when they reconnected with the rest of the world.
They were beneficiaries of charity from the South African High Commission during celebrations to mark the 7th Nelson Mandela Day which was his birthday.
The elderly some of whom have been there for close to 10 years couldn’t hide their excitement on seeing visitors as they broke out in joyful tunes while others ululated.
Of interest was one Amalia Kirigo who was beaming with joy while donned in a bright red poncho complete with a hat.
“I am happy when I see visitors, please do come more often,” she says in her mother tongue.
With the help of an interpreter, I sought out to know whether she enjoys her stay at the institution to which she quickly responds, “I could not have asked for more, the sisters treat us well, they feed, clothe and look after us, and more importantly they are patient with us.”
Rose Nelima whom the sisters say is in her 90’s and who is said to hail from Kibabii in Bungoma County is also a resident in the institution.
Her sense of humour is contagious to say the least as she quickly pointed out that more attention was being paid to the younger looking “ladies” in the house something that didn’t settle well with her.
“Cardinal Otunga brought me here,” she interjected in the middle of a cracked up room.
She too needed an interpreter as she explained that she was the sole survivor in her family after her two children died.
“My children died a long time ago and the cardinal brought me here, she said, “I would be living in misery weren’t it for me being here, where the sisters look after us with so much love.”
The Sister in charge of the institution Brigid Mwilo cited the importance of taking care of the elderly and ensuring that they receive the adequate care they need.
“Not only should the elderly be treated with such care, but they should be given respect and dignity,” she said. “Many of them have suffered from depression leading to other ailments owing to the conditions they were staying prior to their admission to this facility.”
Kenyans are yet to embrace the idea of taking their elderly to these special homes due to the inescapable negative images to old people’s homes with some being viewed as selfish and callous.
“A mention of going to an old people’s home, or sending a relative there, is almost taboo, said Mwilo, “It is taken as a rejection of your family if you consider going there, or a rejection by your family if they hint at the possibility of sending you there.”
Attitudes should, however, not be so absolute, and there may be definite advantages to geriatric communal living, which old people’s homes are.
“Having your loved one in a home for the elderly shouldn’t be taken negatively as it improves their physical, social and psychological special needs,” said Sister Mwilo.
The celebrations of the Nelson Mandela day were led by South African High Commissioner to Kenya Koleka Anita Mqulwana who donated foodstuffs and other commodities to the elderly.
The day which is commemorated annually on July 18, seeks to encourage people to set aside 67 minutes of their time as a gesture of solidarity with humanity and a step towards a global movement for good.
“What Mandela indicated to us is that it is good we build schools and other infrastructure for social purposes but it’s also important that as we do all that, humanity prevails,” said Mqulwana.
The envoy who was accompanied by her entourage participated in activities such as ironing of clothes, while others helped out in the kitchen among others.
Mqulwana stated the importance of instilling the dignity and respect to the elderly in the society by ensuring that institutions that harbour them get the support they need.
“Small gestures such as volunteering, donating and visiting the elderly help in addressing some of the challenges they face,” she said.
Mqulwana also emphasised the need to keep Madiba’s dream alive for the benefit of the younger generation to know the importance of true leadership and what it means.
The Nelson Mandela day was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009, with the first UN Mandela Day being held on July 18, 2010.