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Taking care of our elderly

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Last Sunday, I encountered a personal experience which is somewhat unusual, for it is not often that one experiences a situation where on the same day there is joy and sorrow in one’s family. On this occasion the matriarchs of the families of my wife and I were involved, one, my mother, celebrating her 88th birthday, only for it to be tempered by the passing of the other, my mother-in-law, at the ripe old age of 102, on the same day and the same place at that.

Florence Rosamond Morgan was born in the same year of the first global conflagration, World War 1, which enveloped the world, even those physically far removed from the action as the then colonies in the Caribbean, in a mesh of death, destruction and suffering. The year was 1914, a mere 80 years after the first part of the Emancipation process came into force, releasing younger slaves from physical bondage. She was therefore only a couple generations away from the horrors of slavery, born in a world where Colonial rule, Crown Colony government, and plantation domination held sway.

Globally, the world into which she entered was far different from that of today. Then, the imperial powers held sway, ruling over huge empires of hundreds of millions of people, so much so that Britain could brag about “the sun never setting on the British Empire”. It was a time when our people were taught to sing “Rule Britannia”, and “God save the King” (of Britain, of course) and there were Empire Day parades glorifying our subservience to the British Empire.

However, all this was to change, first under the effects of the World War, and three years after it started, by the emergence of another centre of power, occasioned by the Russian Revolution of 1917, which put a whole new perspective on global affairs and helped to spur on the struggles for independence and national liberation in the colonies.

Those persons born a century ago, of which there are still some remaining with us, would have seen their lives impacted by all these events, even if they did not always understand the causes of those changes. They would have experienced the historic 1935 uprising here, the coming of Adult Suffrage in 1951, the ill-fated West India Federation of 1958-62, and, in the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines, witnessed constitutional developments leading up to Statehood in 1969 and National Independence 10 years later.

Those are rich life experiences which later generations have not encountered. The pity is that, despite the presence of persons like that in our midst, we, as a collective society and nation, have not been able to harness those experiences, to gather the perspectives of those who lived through them and to learn from them. It is a collective failure of ours. Indeed, it seems that the more “educated” we become, the less we draw on the accumulated wisdom of the past.

This raises the issue of how we treat the elderly in our society. Only last week, Prime Minister Gonsalves reminded us all that the over-60s is the “fastest-growing sector” of our population. Over the years, we have seen some advances in terms of how the society recognizes and treats the elderly. The Golden Age facilities, the home care programme for the elderly, improved pensions and assistance via the National Insurance Services and special considerations and concessions in public services offered are among them.

We need to build upon these and expand them. More firms and businesses need to be more elderly-friendly in their provision of services. We sadly lack adequate recreational facilities for the elderly. Our capital city, Kingstown, does not now have even one recreational space where the elderly could rest and enjoy a breath of fresh air. Now we talk of building a new city in Arnos Vale, this aspect must be an important component, a vital priority.

There also needs to be more attention paid to providing homes for the elderly, especially the aged poor. The private initiatives of individuals and organizations in providing homes to care for the elderly must be commended. But these are still inadequate in number and limited in range of services. The state must now become more proactive in this area and, just as has been done with pre-school education, provide greater support and incentives for investments in this area. Additionally, the area of recreational facilities, programmes and activities needs to be addressed. We must take care of those on whose contribution our development was built.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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