January 28, 2012

ZAMBIA: Reshaping care for older people

NDOLA, Zambia / Times of Zambia / Features / January 27, 2012

By Bertha Musawa
IN an African cultural set up, extended families are regarded as very important in maintaining relations and in bonding homes together.
People usually have a number of children so that when they grow old, the children can take care of them other and members of the extended families.Families are supposed to protect and take care of elderly people who normally require intensive care, love, and protection.
Unfortunately the advent of Western culture is slowly negatively affecting the rich culture of cooperation and support in the African extended family set up as elderly people are usually being neglected.
However, the Government and other stakeholders are addressing this problem of elderly people being neglected by setting up institutions to look into the needs of the aged people.
These institutions of old people, which are dotted in various parts of Zambia, offer shelter and other basic needs to vulnerable elderly people.One such institution is Maramba Old People’s Home in Livingstone District which is home to about 51 elderly people of which 34 are male while 16 are female.
The Home, which was initially established as a hostel before Zambia’s independence in 1964 was used as transit accommodation for immigrants’ who were looking for jobs in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe now).
Those who were coming from Southern Rhodesia used the hostel before being repatriated to their respective towns in the country.It was during the per-independence period that the hostel was intended into Maramba Old People’s Home and it was maintained after Zambia got its independence.
The Home, which was initially meant to accommodate a capacity of 37 people, is now home to about 51 elderly people.
 The institution receives vulnerable elderly people from all parts of Zambia who are identified by the community and recommended to the district welfare officers for entry at the Home.
Maramba Old People’s Home officer in charge Humphrey Chileshe said the institution had people who were brought in from Lusaka, Kasama, Kabwe, Zambezi and other parts of the country.
According to Mr Chileshe, the home had seen an increase in the number of elderly people being admitted to the institution due to pure neglect by extended families which impact negatively on the norms and culture as Africans who believe in the spirit of extended family.
He said some of the people who were at the institution were chased from their villages or communities for allegedly practicing witchcraft and rejected by relatives hence their vulnerability.
"Most old people are perceived as witches and wizards simply because of their old age hence they are being harassed and victimised by members of the public which should not be case. We will all grow old one day and will need people to take care of us hence we should not tolerate such actions," Mr Chileshe said.
He said there was need to address the cause of neglect which was on the rise and sensitise people or families on the importance of extended families which is fading out.
"Once we conduct a lot of sensitisation on importance of extended families, people can appreciate and bond with extended relatives," Mr Chileshe
He said there was need to preach and promote unity and reconciliation in families as a way of addressing after care for the elderly people as Zambia was a Christian nation hence the need for citizens to live by Christianity values and norms.
Mr Chileshe said as Africans, there was need to promote and create an environment that suits the African culture of extended families and not adopting the western culture.
He said the institution offer shelter and other basic needs just like in a normal home and the Government was working towards offering the needs to improve the old people’s welfare and running such institutions in the country under the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health.
He said the institution offer psychosocial counselling to the neglected people and try to integrate them with their families as a way of reducing the number and encouraging family support and care.
"The institution has a capacity for only 37 people but at the moment we are accommodating 51 hence the need to try and integrate these people with their relatives who do not want to keep them," Mr Chileshe said.
He said due to lack of staffs the institution mainly depend on voluntaries to clean hostels, cooking and bath the old people some of which cannot bath on they own.
Meanwhile, Mr Chileshe commended the church and other stakeholders for complimenting Government’s efforts in the operations of the institution through the provision of services such as cleaning of the home and bathing of the elderly people.
He said the institution also run a poultry house and a garden with the help of Sun International Hotel and professional life assurance company.
And Southern Province social welfare officer Morris Moono said Government does not encourage institutionalisation of elderly people but would always come in to provide help to the vulnerable ones who had no relatives to look after them.
"Currently, the institution is faced with a lot of challenges due to the increased number of people who are neglected by families and there is need for the construction of modern hostels because the existing structures were meant to accommodate only 37 people," Mr Moono said.
He said existing structures at the institution were meant for able body people who were in search of employment in the past, hence making it difficult for the aged people to access the toilets which are far away from the hostels.
Mr Moono said the type of transport used at the institution was not suitable for such an institution which deals with old people with movement problems.He said the institution had no electric pots cookers, hence the use of charcoal in preparation of meals.
An elderly person at the Home, Sam Kabashi, said he came to the institution home in 2007 and has stayed under Government care since then.Mr Kabashi said he had two children in Kitwe the time he was married and does not know if there are still around.
‘‘I left my children some time back when there were still very youth, there are both girls and am sure there growers ups now,’’ he said.
Mr Kabashi commended the Government for the services being offered at institution because everything was being provided.
Another old woman Esther Tembo thanked the Government for taking care of the elderly people at Maramba old people’s home.Ms Tembo said she had been trying to get in touch with her children since 2007 but to no avail.
‘‘I do not know if there are still alive because when I left them in Lusaka in 1964 when I got married to a Zimbabwean after we divorced,’’ she said. Old people need to be taken care of because there are knowledgeable and we should utilise they wisdom and experience to uphold our values and norms.
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