Dar AISalaam. A series of “empty promises” regarding elderly care has prompted 87-year-old Clotilda Kokopima to act to take the interests of the elderly seriously.
According to experts, murder, poor access to health services and a lack of law to guide the policy of the elderly are some of the things that make the life of the elderly difficult in Tanzania.
Ms. Kokubima is convinced that older people have the power to push for their rights, and thus, breaks the rule that only young people have the energy to advance the agendas that matter to older people.
Last May, President Samia Solo Hassan highlighted key actions the government is taking to improve the well-being of the country’s elderly, including the 2003 National Policy on Aging review.
She said the policy review will help, among other things, address some of the challenges facing the group as the government works to enact a law to protect their rights and well-being.
This came during President Hassan’s meeting with about 900 tribal elders in Dar es Salaam.
During the meeting, the Chairman of the Council of Elders of Dar es Salaam, Mr. Salem Matembwa, informed the Head of State of the various challenges facing the elderly, including limited access to healthcare services and poor representation in various decision-making bodies.
In response, Ms. Hassan said that all the elderly in the country have the right to health services in all health centers, dispensaries and even the National Hospital.
But Ms. Kokubima has come up with a different approach to accelerating her enthusiasm for improving the well-being of the elderly by launching a fund-raising campaign to build a health and recreational center for the elderly in Kasulu District, Kigoma Prefecture. Speaking at the launch of the campaign on Wednesday in Dar es Salaam, Ms. Kokobima said poor conditions for the elderly in the country had prompted her to ensure the facility was built.
She noted that through the donations, the center has already acquired a plot of land and built one of the eight buildings that will complete what she called the first of its kind, the Elderly Care and Leisure Center (Kigoma Day Care and Leisure Centre).
We have already started building one building and the others will follow. “We want it to not be just a residence, it should be a center that includes a health facility, an area for seniors to rest, have meetings, have fun and such things,” she said.
She also noted that there will also be work skills building in the sense of small activities that will help seniors see that there is something they can still do.
“This construction needs Ksh570 million, which is why I brought this issue up to people of good will to support us,” she told a group of multi-stakeholders who came out to support the launch of the strategy.
“From this center, I would like to see every region and county in our nation with such technical centers, where all services will be available to seniors who find themselves in difficult circumstances,” she said.
According to Joseph Mpasha of HelpAge, who was one of the guests at the launch, although the policy for seniors has been in place for 19 years, many things have not been implemented due to the lack of a law providing guidance on how to do it.
For example, the whole issue of medical treatment where the policy directs it to be free for seniors, but there is no law to govern it. As a result, the group lacked quality health services because they did not have the money.
Through Child Mind organisation, Endeleza Wazee Kigoma (Ewaki), Kiswahili for “Empowering Seniors in Kigoma”, Ms. Kokupima had to start the organization after her retirement and see how seniors face different challenges.
“Personally, I cannot say that I went through this difficulty. I was a teacher and later worked as a secretary in CCM (the ruling party) in several provinces, but I came up with the idea of establishing this organization after seeing the life faced by the old people around me in Kasulu, Kigoma District.”
She noted with concern that the elderly lived a difficult life, which led some to beg around people’s stores, begging for food. “This hurts me so much.”
“Even the clothes were a challenge for some. I realized the need to find help for my older colleagues, many of whom had already died due to mental stress and a lack of proper care for their health.
Despite the lack of basic needs including food, shelter and clothing, Ms. Kokobima also notes that many elderly people face loneliness, which contributes significantly to premature death.
“In rural areas, old people are left to live on their own. They have no one to take care of them, which is why you will hear that someone died alone at home. In urban areas, old people who live with their children are locked inside.”
She noted that “the head of the family and the mother work, the children go to school, and the old man is left alone at home or with the help of the house that he does not have time to take care of.”
This situation is what gives Mrs. Kokobima sleepless nights at her age, making her aware of the importance of recreational centers for the elderly.
However, since she cannot do the heavy task on her own, she seeks funding from all the interested groups both locally and internationally to realize her dream.
Long trip ahead
Before dealing with the elderly in the entire Kigoma region, Ms. Kokobima started in Kasulu District where she sought through the organization to provide assistance to the elderly.
“There was a time when I went to Europe and saw how our colleagues serve the elderly. There are special centers where they get all kinds of care. There are doctors and physiotherapists who help the elderly, participate in sports and find space to exchange ideas.
“I was more interested in designing these centers where there are various manual activities that the elderly do, as opposed to when a person is old here, they remain idle while waiting for their death,” she said.
Ms. Kokobima, who also chairs the Network of Organizations Supporting Older Persons, said it is her wish to one day see that older people are safe, well cared for and respected for the great things they have done in this nation.
“Respect for the elderly is decreasing day by day, starting from the level of the family and society and even the government. Only those in leadership positions are respected.”