Part of Age Action's work involves taking an active part in global policy affecting the rights of older people all over the world. Lianne Murphy is the Development Officer in that area of our Ageing and Development programme. Here she gives an account of a recent trip to northern Tanzania - and the inspirational people she met there.
A group of older women at the Sukuma older persons' forum in Tanzania
I recently visited Tanzania to see how older people are being assisted by an Irish Aid funded programme. I was hosted by HelpAge International Tanzania and one of their partner organisations Malperece, who are implementing the programme.
The destination was Magu district, a rural area near Lake Victoria in Northern Tanzania. After two and a half days of travel it was fantastic to finally reach this very lush and beautiful location and start the field trip.
As part of the programme Malperece have facilitated the coming together of older people in Magu district into older people’s forums and older people’s monitoring groups. Together they agree on what is needed for the local older population and then meet with local officials to advocate for their own rights. The issues range from access to age appropriate health services and medicines to access to social protection benefits or funding to start small enterprises.
I first met with various local government and medical officials from the District Commissioners offices, the District hospital and the local health centres who described how they are meeting the needs of older people. As informative as those meetings were I was much more excited to meet older people and hear from them directly about their own lives.
On arriving to Lugeye village I am enthusiastically greeted through song and dance by the local older people’s forum. We meet out of the sun, under a small cluster of trees. There is a good mix of both older women and men present. They explain their structure and activities, some of which include collecting statistics and data on older people, following up on the delivery of health services for older people, identifying issues of abuse and harassment older people face and advocating for a social pension as has been introduced in Zanzibar, the semi autonomous region of Tanzania. They have a continuing dialogue with local officials to feedback their findings and results, and advocate for solutions to the challenges that arise.
Anna Masonge (pictured), a 68-year-old member of the older person’s forum gets up and outlines how she received a grant to set up a small business and now makes and sells soap, disinfectant, bath salts, and massage oils which ensure she has enough money to get by. She also explains the social and psychological benefits of joining the older persons' forum: "I meet my peers, exchanges ideas, takes part in social activities and have an identity with the wider group. There is strength in unity."
The following day I visit Sukuma village; again I am greeted with wonderful song and dance. This group is predominantly older women as I’m told that the men are out tending to the cattle. One by one the women stand to explain how they are working with the older person’s forum and benefitting from the better services that are now being delivered because of the advocacy work they have done.
One such woman is Tabu Busumabu (pictured). Tabu is a trained spokesperson for the group and attends meetings with the District Commissioner. She also received legal training and now advises older women and men on legal issues and rights in relation to elder abuse, land rights and on the importance of making a will.
I meet a group of home based care workers who provide assistance to older people in their own homes. They were set up as a result of the advocacy work of the older people’s forums. They are coordinated by the district hospital but the workers themselves are community based volunteers. The care workers provide advice on basic health; clean water, hygiene, malaria control and encourage their clients to use the specific services for older people in the local health centres and district hospital. They administer massage to assist with joint pain and related mobility issues, and also provide assistance with cooking and cleaning if they are living alone.
Marianna Kang (pictured), an 89-year-old recipient of home based care who was unable to walk due to joint pain and swollen ankles, describes the difference it has made to her life. "I am able to do my own things again now; I have my mobility back and also the dignity and respect from family members. I am independent again."
On returning to Ireland I reflect on my trip and am struck by both the commitment of the older people and also the positive way the local government has responded to their issues. They have found a constructive way of working together that has greatly improved the lives of older people in their community.
I am also struck by the commonality of the issues older people are advocating for in Tanzania with the issues older people face here in Ireland. Access to good health service, income security and care at home or in the community are all issues for Irish older people too. Ultimately living a life with dignity and respect are universal desires no matter which part of the world you live in.