Thursday, November 19, 2009

GAA’s Interns Attend the International Day of Older Persons at the United Nations in New York

On October 8, 2009, the GAA team attended the International Day of Older Persons (IDOP) organized by the NY NGO Committee on Ageing and sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay to the UN; the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs; and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Cindy Le Helley, GAA’s French-speaking research associate, wanted to attend the IDOP at the UN because it gave her “the opportunity to witness the organization of a conference and to understand better the role of the different attendees: NGOs, governments, UN staff and older persons.” Most, she admired speakers who intervened in debates, giving concrete examples of what can be done to help older persons.

Denis Chikunov, GAA’s Russian-speaking research associate, found the IDOP useful and “a pleasurable experience.” He says: “I have never attended such an important and big event in my life. For the first time, I saw Ambassadors from Spain, Brazil, Jordan, and Benin as they spoke about the situation of older persons in their own country.” According to Denis, the ambassadorial panel revealed a general optimism about the situation of older persons and avoided describing the difficulties older persons face in their countries. Denis was much more enthusiastic about the aging activists who he felt addressed more action-driven campaigns, such as Grandmothers who campaign against the US war in Iraq. In the afternoon, Denis participated in a workshop on educating older persons about the UN Principles on Older Persons. He says: “This workshop gave me an opportunity to express my opinion and compare my views of older people with the others.”

Yixing Nan, GAA’s Chinese-speaking research associate, had the chance to talk with an older woman present at IDOP that she escorted to the conference room. “I explained to her what I do at GAA and also some of my background. Then, she kindly invited me to her house out of the blue. I feel that older people sometimes can have very different mindsets from younger ones, just as my grandmother does. Obviously, “we” - the younger people- wouldn’t invite or expect to be invited to someone’s house after 5 minutes of talking. Although the conversation was merely five minutes, I very much enjoyed myself talking to her. I wish I had written down her name and contacts so I could have been able to visit and spend more time chatting with her. Living in a big city like New York with no family around, life has been tough and overwhelming to me. That encounter on the IDOP made the day even more heart-warming.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Older Women in Asia and Africa face the HIV/AIDS Crisis: Interview with Dr. Kalindi Thomas by Magali Girod

Kalindi Thomas

Global Action on Aging interviewed Dr. Kalindi Thomas. After attending medical school, Dr. Thomas did her residency in rural India, in a Presbyterian Hospital. She worked for twenty-three years in Hopkins with grassroots organization and the local community. Then, she served for seven years in New Delhi for the Christian Mission Hospital. For the past eight years, Dr. Thomas has been working for the Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, in the Health and Welfare Department. She coordinates the program to fight against HIV/AIDS and Malaria in Asia and South Africa (Zambia and Mozambique in particular). In her daily work in Asia and Africa, she encounters many older persons and has witnessed the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis on them and their families.


In Africa, older persons, especially older women, are in charge of taking care of the orphaned children and the chronically ill. Most of the time, they are the only healthy ones in the community strong enough to take on this task. However, they sometimes lack the physical strength or the medical knowledge.

Older women in Africa are also secondary caregivers. They are the ones willing to go to visit the sick and frail people in their community. However the expectations of the patients are higher that what these older women can offer. The sick want food, medication, water. At the same time, older women themselves face major difficulties. They are poor and uncompensated for their time and effort older women can easily fall into debt as their meager pension is not sufficient to support their adult children and grandchildren. They do not receive any support from their national or local government. They sometimes lack the appropriate identification papers to receive social pensions when available and are denied property rights.

However, some positive developments are also taking place in the area. Women are brought together and share knowledge and hope. They also benefit from small loans, which allow them to buy a goat or seeds for producing vegetables. Older women create their own income by sewing uniforms or cooking.

Vaccination Campaign in Africa

Older man in Africa

Grandmother taking care of her orphaned grandson in Zimbabwe. Her son died of HIV/AIDS and her daughter-in-law died of TB.
Grandmothers and mentally disabled grandchildren dancing in Zimbabwe.
Older Women taking care of an HIV/AIDS patient as secondary caregivers in Zimbabwe.

In Africa, some schools provide one meal a day for children. Grandmothers and their grandchildren join the school to enjoy a meal as well.

Older women cooking for the family


Dr. Thomas Kalindi related the story of an older woman in her 60’s. In Bombay, India, she had heart surgery and got infected by HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion. Her family did not want people to know about the situation and did not want to keep her at home. They brought her to a mission Hospital where her sons cared for her. However, the daughters-in-law or grandchildren never came to see her. They felt shame and were frightened. This example shows the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS in this region.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Lesson from Volunteering

The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens’s volunteer program has empowered senior advocacy for decades. Volunteers provide care facility residents with the necessary support and resources that enable them to campaign on their own behalf, from collecting Social Security benefits to demanding better personal treatment.

Residents are not the only recipients of this mutually beneficial exchange. While volunteers receive gratifying sentimental rewards from their work, they also acquire practical job skills that enhance any career path. As a volunteer, Hank Weit learned the practical, day-to-day, of geriatric care that enabled him to pursue a new career in geriatric care management. “I had references; I had a lot of people who would speak up; I had networking contacts,” says Weit, a volunteer of six years. “Most importantly, I had networking experiences.”

From negotiating to problem solving skills, volunteers gain new insight into a potential new career path, while simultaneously giving back to the senior community. Volunteer Marie Jouvelle Aubourg says, “I had a great-grandmother who was in a nursing home and I took care of her a lot and visited her a lot during that time. So I did want to come back and give back to the elderly community.”

For more information on the volunteering program at the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens, visit