September 9 2014 09:30 | Karel de Grote-Hogeschool, Campus Groenplaats, Swaelen room
The community of Sant Egidio in Malawi born in 1999 January after the beautiful pan African congress in Zomba is mainly comprised of young people between the ages of 18 to 40 years. These are young people who have dedicated their lives to living in friendship together in solidarity with the hope for a better future for everyone, the youth and the old, the poor and rich. Together facing the future with the hope to bring a new culture to the society, the culture of love. In this society of mine, discrimination against the elderly is increasing. The society has changed the life expectancy has increased and this has come as a gift to Africa. This blessing sometimes becomes a curse. With lots of elderly we need also to change the mentality. As a community of sant egidio we became aware of it earlier and had to conduct the first international conference on the elderly, precisely in Malawi. We involved the high level including the president so that we appeal to general public the importance of having deliberate policies that involve the welfare of the elderly. Due to the output of this conference, members of Parliament have started to discuss a bill on the welfare of the elderly which may include pension funding, thanks to the community for this clear success.
Today the youth are becoming more individualistic with the global idea to become more educated and independent. It’s a very important anthropological change. In this view Africa has to find a way to build a good relationship between different generations. I recall the words of Pope Francis in santa Maria in Trastevere as he said: “A people who don’t protect their elderly, who don’t take care of their young, is a people without a future, a people without hope. Because the young — the children, the youth — and the old carry history forward. The children, the young rightly have their biological strength. The elderly offer their memory. But when a community loses its memory, it’s over, it’s over. It’s awful to see a community, a people, a culture that’s lost its memory.”
Africa is no longer as it was in the past years. With this healthy development and more economical stability, we need new policies and a new role of the public sector facing those challenges.
An old mentality continue to exist: prejudice of accusing the elderly of witchcraft which is not in line with the education level and understanding of basic humanity issues. It is unacceptable that after years of hard work and perseverance in order to develop and build our country, an old person has to be subjected to torture at the very time the society needs to appreciate their contributions towards improvement of life and mankind. What doesn’t produce is discarded. We have to counter this prejudice.
Our first meeting with the poor especially the elderly first brings joy to every one of us, it is a two way relationship. Myness Nyirenda said ‘I don’t feel lonely any more, God has sent me angels to accompany me on my sad journey back’ it is indeed a sad journey of loneliness in the dark. Life where no one wants to care about you but rather they would want to see you dead so that you can longer bother them. It is a long journey in the dark since most of her time Myness spends in the house, in side without light, and days passes without seeing the sun. Our simple visit to her home is described as an angels’ visit. She has learnt that young people can also be respectful to the elderly, kind and loving words coming from the youth she has always feared to meet. This is in contrast to the fact that the elderly used to invite young people to be around them for a story telling, a sweet story told by an elderly person comes with richness of culture and many teachings. The youth that visit the elderly have always enjoyed the encounter and have always come back with real life stories that have made us to call the elderly as our library and inspiration to face the fact. On the face of the elderly you see both the sweetness and the struggle of life, this helps us to remove the sadness that comes due to the normal difficulties of life for example, lack of school fees or lack of a job, and from the elderly you get real encouragement. It’s a new society in building, an alliance between generations, where both of us give and receive, we give our strength to the elderly and they give us their words of wisdom and blessings. Their prayers are a blessing to us, and a treasure to the life of our community.
One elderly once said ‘don’t take too long without coming to see me, I may die in the silence.’ We present the gift of the new life to the elderly, life that has been accompanied by mutual respect. Jesus told Peter that that ‘when you were young you used to get ready and go anywhere you want to go, but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will bind you and take you where you don’t want to go.’ This helps us understand that we will all grow and become weak, that we will all need the assistance of other people.
VALUE OF LIFE
The fact that you are alone and poor and without a pension eludes one self confidence and makes you useless and irrelevant. Apart from the simple visits that the community conducts everyday in different parts of Malawi we also try to involve the elderly in different outdoor activities that makes them feel valued. Whenever the youth have organized dinners or public functions such as debates on topical issues the elderly people have always been at the front guiding us, their words of wisdom have always accompanied our speeches. In fact the relatives of some elderly have started to ask or stay with their elderly because they were impressed with the way we could associate ourselves with their grandmothers and grandfathers, and eventually they would remove their own fear. That’s one of the importances of the relationships between the young and the elderly. The society around them, the relatives start to view them differently. We become as what the Gospel tells us, the visit of Mary to her old cousin Elizabeth. Mary was with enthusiasm and in a hurry visiting her old cousin, a sign of love and care. This is seen in us as well, we feel to be in a hurry visiting the elderly people because from them we are consoled and encouraged. We go against current in this world which is only trying to lose its roots of the love of the elderly.