Thursday, December 3, 2009

Older Persons at Risk of HIV/AIDS

If an 81-year-old woman came to her doctor, few would guess that she had HIV.

Dr. Veronika Steenpass recalls the time two years ago when an 81-year-old woman arrived at Grady Hospital in Georgia complaining of unexplained weight loss.

She had lost 20 pounds in six months. Following a thorough round of lab tests, the results came back. Dr. Steenpass had to tell a woman old enough to be her grandmother that she was HIV-positive.

While the number of younger people with HIV/AIDS has been decreasing, older people’s numbers with HIV/AIDS are increasing. At Grady Hospital, between January and March 2008, some 38 patients learned they had HIV/AIDS. Fifteen of these patients or nearly 40 percent were over 50 years old.

Many older people do not stop having sex as they age. Recent studies suggest that the majority of older men and women maintain high levels of sexual interest well into their 70s. In fact, drugs such as Viagra have made it possible for older men and their partners to remain sexually active longer. A New England Journal of Medicine study in 2006 reported that a majority of 3,005 American adults surveyed, aged 57 to 85 years, continue to have sex two to three times each month.

However, only 38 percent of the men and 22 percent of the women had discussed sex issues with a doctor since they turned 50 years old. Many older patients feel uneasy discussing sexual behavior with their physicians, according to AARP research. Young doctors, too, can be uncomfortable talking about sexually transmitted diseases with people old enough to be their parents or grandparents, says recent National Institutes of Health study.

In addition, older people often mistake signs of HIV/AIDS for the aches and pains of normal aging. They are less likely than younger people to get tested for the disease. Also they may be ashamed or afraid of being tested. People age 50 and older may have had the virus for years before being tested. By the time they are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, the virus may be in the late stages.

The over-50 crowd remains as a relatively small segment of the nation's at-risk group for sexually transmitted diseases. Medical experts agree that older Americans often are among the most overlooked and, therefore, one of the more vulnerable populations.

However, people over-50 years will account for half of all HIV/AIDS cases in the United States by 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health officials, educators and church advocates must push for more prevention information aimed at aging baby boomers and those firmly in their golden years.

1. P.J. Huffstutter, “Experts: Elders Need Some Sex Education, Too”, Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2007
2. Ibid.

By Yixing Nan
Research Associate at Global Action on Aging

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Meeting with Mr. Xiao Cai Wei, Assistant President of China National Committee on Ageing (Former Director of International Department at CNCA)

I went back to China in August and thanks to Global Action on Aging’s help, I had the chance to meet with Mr. Xiao Cai Wei, the Director of International Department at China National Committee on Ageing. Mr. Xiao is a long time friend of Global Action on Aging. The relationship dates back to 2002 when he visited GAA in New York and GAA interns interviewed him about his work.

I went to his office prepared with several questions, most of them related to the China ’s newly launched Social Pension System. The meeting was very cordial. We talked about a number of topics. The Chinese Government had several reasons to establish a social pension system (non-contributory pension) and to expand pension coverage to rural areas in China , according to Mr. Xiao. One important reason is that China is developing rapidly, with an average growth rate of 8%. However, during its many years of economic growth, China has witnessed serious social problems, including ever-increasing social inequality and environmental problems. In order to enhance its development in a sustainable manner, the Chinese Central and Local Governments intend to allocate much more resources to programs such as Social Health Insurance and a Social Pension System.

As China ages rapidly, the aging population has increased substantially. The number of 60 years and older was about 760 million during the Eighties. Now the number has reached 1,500 million, twice as many as it was 30 years ago. It is estimated that the older population in China will hit 4,300 million in 2050, with an average increasing rate of 6 million per year. For a thousand years, parents expected, as a cultural tradition, that their children would provide care for them in old age. Older Chinese depended on their offspring for a very long time. However, this tradition is facing challenges. As more and more young adults moving from rural areas to big cities, their old parents are left at home in rural areas without a stable income to support them. The so-called “empty-nester” has come to exemplify a growing social problem. How will older people in China get care in their old age? The demand for establishing more social caregiving organizations for elders is increasing. At the same time, some experts suggest that enhancing and supporting traditional family-based care is more feasible under the current circumstances. As indicated by Mr. Xiao Cai Wei, the Chinese Government has already set up a strategy to solve this problem: The Chinese elder caregiving system should be based on the family and supported by community and social caring organizations. The government will evaluate some relevant policies and regulations to refine the system.

During the meeting, we also talked about future cooperation possibilities with Global Action on Aging. China has always been an active advocate for elder rights and would like to learn from other countries about their experiences in protecting older people, including policies that proved to be feasible and effective. As the world’s nation with the largest population of older people, China , and the China National Committee on Ageing, will have to come up with creative strategies that work well in China . Mr. Xiao appreciated Global Action on Aging’s perseverance and dedication to the well being of older persons all over the world. He sent his best wishes to Susanne, Magali, and all the diligent GAA interns. I am truly grateful to Mr. Xiao for giving me this interview and I thank Susanne for offering me this great opportunity.

By Ye Wang, for Global Action on Aging

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reviving Self-Help in the Bronx, NY, USA

Neighborhood Self Help by Older Persons Project (SHOPP) helps older adults to help themselves. Founded in 1980, and based in the gritty Hunt’s Point section of the Bronx, SHOPP’s ethos revolves around self-help and mutual assistance.

Relying on informal support systems, SHOPP’s efforts lighten the numerous burdens that older people face. Their social service is specifically targeted to those community groups that compose the rich diversity of the Bronx. Programs include transportation to health and wellness services, among many others.

SHOPP’s Senior Network Groupwork Program serves senior groups in partner sites such as senior housing buildings, churches, and community centers. Latino seniors can find Spanish-speaking social opportunities at the “Casa Boricua Senior Center.” The bilingual “Proyecto Salud/Healthy Living” Project offers activities that focus on wellness and health, while providing counseling and support for seniors who suffer from abuse or are victims of crime.

To get involved and volunteer at SHOPP, visit their website:

Or contact their office directly:
953 Southern Boulevard Suite 203
Bronx, NY 10459-3428
Evelyn Laureano, Executive Director
(718) 542-0006
Jasmine Ellis-Carless, Assistant Director
(718) 542-0006

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Message on the International Day of Older Persons, By Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General

“Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the International Year of Older Persons: Towards a Society for All Ages”

This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the International Year of Older Persons.

Over the past decade, we intensified our efforts to build a “society for all ages” and to promote international commitment to the United Nations Principles for Older Persons. The Principles are founded on the need to build an inclusive society that emphasizes participation, self-fulfillment, independence, care and dignity for all. To transform them into deeds, we have campaigned for policies that will enable older persons to live in an environment that enhances their capabilities, fosters their independence, and provides them with adequate support and care as they age.

The motto “towards a society for all ages” was adopted in 1999 and reaffirmed at the Second World Assembly on Ageing, held in Madrid in 2002. It emphasizes the need to treat older persons as both agents and beneficiaries of development. These emphases – and the United Nations Principles – take on even greater importance as the world struggles to confront global food, energy, climate, financial and economic crises.

The international community is also devoting increasing attention to the human rights of older persons. We must put an end to age discrimination, abuse, neglect and violence against older persons. I urge states to put the necessary legal protections in place, and I urge all partners to help countries develop the capacity and institutions to achieve this objective.

On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to the vital work of upholding the UN Principles for Older Persons and achieving a society for all ages.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Intern's Voice, Ludivine Gendre

Every morning I leave Grand Central Station and walk to GAA office. Those daily ten minutes make me feel that I am part of New York City. I see people in suits and in a hurry, drinking their coffee as they go. I think, how lucky I am to live here and to go to work at 777 UN Plaza.

My name is Ludivine Gendre, I have been an intern at GAA since the end of June and I am leaving very soon which makes me feel very sad! I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Law in France and I hope to be studying in Paris next year.

I decided to work at GAA because of the Interns Voices on the website. The atmosphere here sounded very nice. I must admit it has been even better than I thought! Here at GAA, everybody is free to organize his or her time and tasks as he feels like. Magali and Susanne rely on us and trust us. GAA is gathering interns from all over the world. Working here teaches us a lot about other countries and cultural diversity.

At the office I am in charge of the French section; I also often have to focus on pensions, comparing the different national systems. Doing this research is very interesting and I learned a lot about aging issues. I particularly like finding articles dealing with Africa. I think many people in the world are unaware of the situation in these countries. That’s why we need to give them voice on the GAA website. But sometimes it is very hard to find articles and it varies every week.

This week I found an article that details a new philosophy of health care in nursing homes, the ‘
Humanitude,’ a humanist way of taking care of older people. This article shows that new ways can still be found to help older persons. I also enjoy finding small articles dealing with new studies. This week I found one that said older people need more of the 'sunshine vitamin' and that sunlight can be very good in providing them with vitamin D. This vitamin protects people from a number of diseases. Many studies show us that physicians are aware of aging issues and keep researching these topics so that they can help older people.

Time at GAA has been delightful, I got to know more about aging issues, I got involved in seminars with retired people, I went to the UN and I had a lot of fun during lunch breaks with all the other interns. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” that is what I have been told. I wish I could have stayed longer to have more fun.

Last week, a former GAA intern, Marie-Pascal Verly, sent us
some photos of older persons from Zambia where she spent a year with Catholic Relief Services. In August, Marya Hannun wrote a long article about older persons in Lebanon while she was working there in a refugee camp. These former interns are still in touch with GAA and keep working on aging issues. It seems that their experiences as interns here are never going to end. I am happy to think that I can still be useful for GAA in the future.

And if you think or have heard about an initiative or a new development that could help older persons, please let GAA know. Feel free to write a comment, we will be glad to hear and learn from your experiences!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Intern's Voice, Lucie Perrier

Human Rights, NGO, UN, Social Justice, New York… These were the keywords which caught my eye and dragged me into this office.

Before coming to 777 UN Plaza, NY, I didn’t have any idea that some people, somewhere in the world, were defending older persons. That is what appealed me to apply for this internship at GAA.

My name is Lucie Perrier and I have been at GAA since the beginning of August 2009. I will start my senior year in a couple of days at the Lycée international of Aix-en-Provence in France. This high school has offered me a lot during the past two years, providing me with a free international education as it promotes bilingualism and biculturalism. Thanks to the opportunities my teachers have given me, I have become increasingly interested in geography and current affairs. This is how I got involved almost a year ago in a life-changing experience called EYP. These three letters stand for European Youth Parliament, a non-profit organization encouraging European youth to engage actively in citizenship and cultural understanding. During EYP sessions and debates, I learned about Human Rights, international organizations such as the UN and the role of NGOs. Discussions with 300 European teenagers just like me, made me realize how important peace keeping and social justice were indifferent to cultural disparities.

It is almost the same purpose at GAA. We want to raise people’s awareness about the need for equality and respect but focused on older people. In order to do that, we look for articles dealing with seniors and post them to our website ( Being a high school student was intimidating the first day but thanks to the friendly atmosphere reigning in the office and the welcoming attitude of the older interns, it felt like home.

During these past weeks, I have been responsible to find articles in both English and French about elder rights in the US and in the world. I’ve looked at how older persons live in rural areas and what happens to them in armed conflicts or how they find help, if any, for their health care. I also contributed to the “look” of the website by updating the FrontPage every Friday. Posting on the website was relatively challenging for me as I had practically no computer skills. Thanks to GAA and our team work, I have learned a lot about computing.

One article that particularly touched me was titled Curtain falls on world’s oldest pupil, but after fulfilling his dream. Posted on August 16, 2009, the writer spotlighted Kimani Maruge, an 89-year-old Kenyan man, known as the oldest pupil in the world, passed away. He wanted to read so he could interpret the Bible on his own and to learn simple arithmetic. He became a symbol of the Kenyan government's success in offering free primary education. Even more, he demonstrated the resilience and hope of many uneducated people for basic literacy. Thanks to his big step, many adults went back to school in Kenya after the introduction of free primary school education in 2003. For this reason, Mr. Maruge spoke at the United Nations Millennium Development Summit on the importance of free primary education. He stated that "it would be good if all children of the world could go to school." I will always remember his quote because I am convinced that education is one of the most essential rights that everyone should enjoy.

I find GAA’s work very valuable and helpful to the UN. GAA’s attempts to encourage a convention or treaty guaranteeing the human rights of older persons is very important to all countries. Having the opportunity to be a part of the GAA team opened my eyes to the current plight of older people. Thanks a lot to Susanne and Magali! I will never forget my experienced with you and all the interns!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

World's Ageing Population

Judy Lear, an NGO colleague from the US-based Gray Panthers, joined older persons from Kenya and Uganda on a August 12, 2009 BBC World News show. Interviewers asked them about their situation—income, respect, work load and opportunities—in old age. Use your computer speaker to hear this lively program.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Intern's Voice, Yini Qiu

I usually wake up at 7:45 am and leave my dormitory at 8:20 am. My weekdays start with several warm morning greetings from all my fellow GAA co-workers.

This is Yini Qiu. I am currently a graduate student from School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University in California. My home is in Shanghai, China. I came to the United States about a year ago.

I still remember the first day at GAA. After my supervisors and the other interns welcomed me, the program coordinator started the orientation session. She explained almost every chapter in GAA intern guide book, including the dress code and the interns’ daily work. I was surprised to be treated in such professional way. Compared to the internship that I did before, GAA cares about interns and believes interns do make a difference.

Once I had the chance to sit at the CEDAW (Committee to Eliminate Discrimination against Women) conference in a UN’s conference room. Being exposed to such a great environment gave me a concrete idea of the UN rather than just an abstract image. The experience broadened my horizon.

I work on a full-time basis here in GAA and am in charge of the Chinese section for all the topics that GAA covers. Through very wide reading on the aging issue, I’ve collected a lot of information and have learned so much from it.

The research itself is helpful and some articles provide answers to questions that were raised in earlier postings. For example, the article,
China’s Future will be Hobbled by Old Age , throws into question how China will deal with the situation of “getting old before getting rich.” This is a very tough fact. While I am reading it, I keep searching for a possible solution because I will be facing this situation soon. What will we Chinese do?

A week later, I found an article about the Japanese retired workers’ life. It enlightened me. Called”
The Life after Retirement in Japan(Article in Chinese), the author suggests that life in the old age can be wonderful and as meaningful as young people’s. So perhaps China may not solve its aging challenge perfectly, but if the nation keeps improving and making the situation of older people better, then we are on the way to achieving our goal. And this is what GAA tries to do, I think.

Yes, I am learning from GAA, a lot, and GAA is supported by all the interns’ working together. And I am proud of the team I work with and feel involved and fulfilled. I have a new awareness and understanding of older people’s needs, as well as instrumental and practical solutions to their issues. I have worked on related UN projects, such as the proposed human rights convention on rights of older people and how NGOs can work with governments to achieve such a lofty goal.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Intern's Voice, Cyrus Jalai

The days of a GAA intern consistently offer something new, unexpected, thus fostering a true sense of purpose and responsibility. It’s this quality about working with GAA that first caught me and drew me in. I really relish in the thought that I can actually do something profitable to actively help people.

My name is Cyrus Jalai and I’ve been with Global Action on Aging since July 1, 2009. I am currently an upcoming senior at Riverdale Country School at the top of the Bronx. Riverdale is the type of high school which offers a challenging liberal arts education yet manages to balance that with great spirit and extracurricular involvement. In particular, it’s that liberal arts-style education that first inspired me to pursue other interests and to expand my horizons, first leading me to GAA. Riverdale also encourages its students to go out and truly make an effort to have an influence in people’s lives, another reason for my internship.

Something that GAA celebrates is the cultural diversity of its interns, and though I am a full-time resident in the US, I am no exception to this rule. I moved from Toronto, Canada in 9th grade in 2007 to New York City. I’ve been living in New York City for two years, and yet, when I’m away from the city, I feel the constant nagging feeling that I need to return. I’ve really only started to get to know the city, but despite my short time here, I feel like a true part of its proverbial “soul.”

Being one of the only two high schools students here at GAA can be daunting, yet it makes me work harder in an attempt to put myself on par with the majority of the other interns here, who are mostly college-level and graduate students. Indeed, it’s challenging to pit my knowledge against that of twenty-something year olds, but the obstacles, as well as the other interns, teach me immeasurably every day.

My tasks here at GAA are generally very similar in nature: researching articles pertaining to world and local elder rights, rural aging, and armed conflict situations; creating the front page. In fact, the majority of my time here is spent researching various articles that I find appropriate and interesting contributions to our cause. One of the articles that I particularly identified with was entitled, Niger Delta Elders Declare August 11 Non-Violent Day. It states that the Elders of various groups within the Niger Delta region called for a Non-Violent day. They have created a communiqué to instruct their people to embark on a nation-wide rally to combat violence. This cause really resonates with me, because this is an example of an older person taking it upon himself to make a change in his life. Rather than waiting for a third party to do so, these seniors are taking charge to protect themselves.

I find that GAA’s work is truly laudable and noble. It’s a rare thing, at least to me, that an organization reaches out to the older population of our country. It seems to me that even in the city, where we promote cooperation, teamwork and inclusion, that these are little more than empty words, false promises; the truth being that older people are perpetually being subtly neglected, and reports of elder abuse and fraud are becoming more and more common each day. But fortunately, that’s where GAA steps in, to give voice to seniors’ troubles and achievements. I’m really thankful that GAA has given me the opportunity to help them on their hard mission, and will remember what I’ve learned in my time here for the rest of my life!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ferdous Ara Begum Announces CEDAW’s New Progress

On Monday August 10, 2009, Ferdous Ara Begum, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee Expert, paid a visit to Global Action on Aging’s office located in New York City. The GAA staff was eager and excited to spend an afternoon hearing about the progress Begum and the CEDAW convention were making across the street at the UN.

Weeks earlier, on July 21st, the GAA staff and interns were able to see Begum in action during the CEDAW session at the UN (
Key Issues and Recommendations). During the session Begum announced a proposal for a general recommendation (Concept Note) to be adopted by all countries that have ratified CEDAW to strengthen the rights of older women at both national and international levels. Since the last UN session, Begum reports optimistic news for CEDAW and older women around the world. Be sure to watch the clip of Begum announcing CEDAW’s newest progress during the afternoon meeting with GAA.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Older Persons in Lebanon

Lebanon is a country of contradictions. In fact, ask anyone from the city of Beirut to describe it, and they will tell you with pride that on a few days every year, you can go skiing and swimming in the same day. Mountains surround the Mediterranean along the coast, creating a dramatic contrast that provides a tangible manifestation of the various contradictions found throughout the country. Civil War plagued Beirut for 15 years, and the country (as I’m sure anyone who reads the news would recall) constantly faces moments of political unrest and upheaval. But driving down the streets, seeing people go to the beaches, shops, or nightclubs, you would never guess such a thing to be the case. A similar tension exists between the growing conservatism in many pockets of the Middle East, and the complete laissez faire, anything-goes, attitude exhibited by the younger generations.

All of this is what surprised me the most when I first took off to Lebanon to work in a refugee camp just on the outskirts of the capital city, Beirut. Sitting in the terminal of Heathrow Airport in London, waiting to board the flight to Beirut, I noticed women sitting across from me wearing the most fashionable skinniest jeans, high heels, and tank tops while right next to them sat others wearing the hijab (veil), exhibiting the modest dress of a more conservative individual. Before even setting foot in the country, I was already face to face with the contradictions that represent it.

Similar tensions can be found on the drive I take to get to the refugee camp everyday, where my project is based. Within three minutes of leaving the city, full of Range Rovers, designer boutiques and nice restaurants, you witness conditions worse than the most squalid project housing in America. Windowless buildings piled on top of one another, tangled electricity wires that don’t even work much of the time, and beat up cars that shock by the fact that they still run, provide a striking contrast for the viewer.

So, how does all of this relate to older people? As I said, Lebanon is a country of contrasts, juxtapositions between rich and poor, mountains and sea, conservatism and liberalism, and while such dichotomies can be incredible (as with the landscape) and certainly unique, they can also be detrimental. The most pronounced of the contradictions found here seems to pervade all of the others. In fact, it can be found in almost every aspect of life in this country. That is the tension between modernity and tradition, and nowhere is this tension more evident than in the status of older people. The changing family structure represents the largest social change taking place in the Middle East. People are no longer all staying in the same town. Many go abroad; many don’t get married or have child after child in order to perpetuate the family legacy. Unfortunately, these changes place a large burden on older people. In the past, it was understood that kids took care of their parents. Older people received attention and aid from their children. It was an unspoken agreement. Today, while the agreement has been largely broken, it remains unspoken.

My grandmother lives in an apartment by herself, as all of her children live abroad either in Europe or the United States. An 80 year-old who can still drive on the deadly chaotic streets of Beirut, she represents an exceptional case. However, even she has difficulties. She has to navigate life in an incredibly busy city with no one to help her both with the menial everyday tasks and more importantly, with enforcing her individual rights. If she is having difficulty with her landlord, something I have witnessed more than once. He tries to intimidate her and there is not much she can do about it because she is unaware of her rights. If she needs to travel a long distance, she has to find a driver. However, she does not trust just anyone. Afraid that a random driver would take advantage of her age or her frailty, she only wants a driver she already knows and can vouch for. This proves a problem because the only person who fits this description is also an octogenarian who is unable to work all day everyday. So my grandmother cannot always get where she needs to be. In these instances and others like them, I have noticed that there are no social provisions or serious legal ramifications to serve as a safety net for elder rights abuse, and the traditional safety provided by family no longer exists for so many people like my grandmother.

She has four sisters, three older and one younger, who also face similar problems in their everyday life It has been very enlightening, though sometimes disheartening, to spend time with them. An older sister clearly suffers from some sort of memory loss. She does not recognize me, although we have been acquainted for some time. She gets confused, and thinks I am my mother, until she is reminded who I am with a laugh by one of her sisters, only to forget again moments later. Every time she forgets anything, one of her sisters will act as though she is just being silly, and subtly point out the mistake or recollection, as though she is simply one of those absent-minded people who has just misplaced her keys. After seeing this process occur over and over again, I realized that they were all in denial. No one was acknowledging that she has a more serious, graver problem. When I asked my grandmother about this, she brushed off my concerns, saying her sister was just “tired.” In the Middle East, particularly among older and more traditional generations, the word “tired” is a euphemism for everything from the common cold to lung cancer. One does not talk about illnesses and everyone who is suffering from one is just “tired.” I constantly find myself wanting to scream, “Really? Then why can’t you cure it with a double espresso??” Mental health issues are particularly stigmatized in this society, but with modern medicine available, even as treatments for dementia or Alzheimer’s, older people need to be made aware of their options This can only happen if they are willing to talk about it.

It is not just mental health issues that older people do not want to acknowledge. They also, more than anyone else, fail to openly recognize the social changes occurring all around them. This denial creates an interesting socioeconomic breakdown of issues facing older people here. From what I have witnessed, the city of Beirut is where the most changes are happening. However, many of the older people here have money and the physical means of accessing better health care and aid should they need it, even thought family/social support does not exist to a large extent for them. On the other hand, people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to gravitate more toward tradition. While they are worse off physically, living in difficult conditions (particularly in the camp where access to health care and even facilities such as elevators and wheelchairs that help vulnerable populations are virtually nonexistent) the family structure remains intact. People there receive attention and help from within their social networks.

In other words, older people in the city, like my grandmother, suffer more from problems related to the changing family structure. Although their quality of life at large may be much higher, they are not necessarily happier or better off in terms of social integration than older people in the camp. This, for me, is an interesting paradox. With economic and social progress come changes that benefit many. However, older people are not necessarily gaining from these changes. In fact, in some cases, as a group, they are losing. As I said, Lebanon is a country of contradictions, and unfortunately, though we’d like to pretend that a double latte could cure everything, the reality is just not that simple.

By Marya Hannun, for Global Action on Aging

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Intern's Voice, Ye Wang

My name is Ye Wang and I have interned with GAA for over two months. This was my very first experience working in a foreign country. Also, this was the first time I have had the chance to work with people from such diverse backgrounds. It was really exciting and I am very grateful for all that I've learned and experienced.

I came to the US last year and currently am a graduate student at New York University Wagner School of Public Services. My study concentration at Wagner is Health Policy and Management, which focuses mainly on the US health care system and public health policies. I enjoyed the school work very much. However, because I come from another country where the political systems and social mechanisms are different from those in the US, I often got stuck both in classes and at home doing my readings. I was eager to get out of school, to meet people, and to experience more about the country that I am living in now. By the end of April 2009, I was lucky enough to get the offer from Global Action on Aging and started the internship right after I turned in my last final paper.

Days at GAA are very productive. I was responsible for all Chinese sections, including Chinese articles and reports about China's aging policies. As we all know, China is the biggest county in the world in terms of population, and it will be the country with the largest older population in a couple of years. Moreover, because China is still a developing country, some would say that China will become older before it becomes richer. Older and poorer, Chinese elders need help and should get more attention. I am glad that GAA acknowledged their importance and advocates for the rights of Chinese (and other) older persons.

After two months of intensive reading and researching on this topic, I became more and more interested in how people all over the world see this problem and what are they going to do to tackle it. Today on our website, you can find an article in the Elder Rights section entitled, Population of Older People Set to Surpass Number of Children. It says that the world is about to cross a demographic landmark of huge social and economic importance with the proportion of the global population 65 and over set to outnumber children under five for the first time. It means that the world is not just ageing, but the rate of ageing is also becoming more rapid. As stated in the article, "the transformation carries with it challenges for families and policymakers, ranging from how to care for older people living alone to how to solve the insolvency problem of our pension systems." I won't stop caring for aging although my internship will end soon. I do think all those who cares about themselves and their families should care aboutaging and older people, since we all will be old some day.

What I love the most are the people here at GAA. All the interns that I worked with became my close friends. Though we speak all kinds of languages and come from all over the world, there are things that we all share andvalue: genuine, positive attitude towards life and the world, and the willingness to help others and make a difference. Working with people that you really like can be one of the best things ever to happen. This made mylife at GAA full of laughs that I will treasure for a very long time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Intern's Voice, Emily Wargo

My name is Emily Wargo and I am a 2009 summer intern at GAA. In a mere two months I will begin my senior year at Providence College, in Rhode Island. My studies include a major in Global Studies and a concentration in European affairs. I also recently returned from studying abroad in Seville, Spain for the semester, complimenting my Spanish minor. As a lifetime resident of Connecticut, I am commuting to New York City on a part-time basis to gain experience from the knowledgeable advocates at Global Action on Aging during the summer break.

While abroad I began investigating internship opportunities and was fortunate enough to be offered a part time internship at GAA for the summer. I was thrilled by the original assignments, and little did I know that even more would be added to my list! I am now responsible for finding articles and reports in both English and Spanish corresponding to elder rights, pension systems, health care, and armed conflict facing older persons.

As a GAA intern, my days in the office are kept busy with the constantly emerging news pertaining to the elderly population. Over the past two months I have had the opportunity to work on additional tasks, allowing my creative, liberal arts juices to flow freely. From working to compile an analysis of the current financial crisis’ effects on older persons to attending a session at the United Nations for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, my experience at GAA has exceeded my expectations.

Recently Susanne Paul dropped by my desk with an article from Z Magazine and instructions to upload it to the website. Like all of my other articles, I began formatting the editorial and read it over in order to draft a knowledgeable summary. The piece was a book review of The Grey Panthers; the story of one remarkable group of older persons begun in the 1960’s who fought for their vision of a dignified lifestyle in later years. Aside from their extreme determination, leading to several victories and national attention, one woman in the review caught my attention, Maggie Kuhn. Kuhn founded the group with fire in her eyes, based on the principle that old age is beautiful, not something to be hidden but something to be declared and affirmed. I was overcome with a feeling of contentment as I read the article, knowing that my work here at GAA is furthering her dream. The review is available in the US section under the Health category on the GAA website.

I will do my best to carry Kuhn’s words with me in all of my future endeavors and “until rigor mortis sets in, do one outrageous thing every week.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

Intern's Voice, Jacqueline Foeslter

A Global Action on Aging intern’s assignments vary from week to week, as he or she may meet with diplomats, experts or retired union members, read lengthy reports, or yes, even stuff envelopes with greeting cards beautifully crafted in-house. However, there is one task which ties us all together: the GAA Newsletter. We consistently work on the weekly newsletter from finding articles, truncating them down to a blurb format, posting them on our internal website, transferring them to the external website to share with the public, and all the editing that goes on in between…

My name is Jacqueline Foelster and I have been with the GAA team since January 2009. I graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelors of Science in General Business, a minor in International Development and Conflict Management and in Spanish. Itching to leave the DC suburbs upon graduation, I moved to New York City with only the plan to jump into the city’s vivacity and see what I could make out of it. Could I even make it, is what I asked myself when I landed flat off the Chinatown bus onto 31st St and 7th Ave, and into the epicenter of the nation’s drowning economy. My application submissions for entry-level positions with NGOs and foundations were becoming futile as donors’ budgets, mostly Fortune 500 companies and the upper echelon of the city’s wealth, were drying out. I made do with serving and bartending as people are always up for a fun night out as soon as the clock strikes 5 o’clock and even more so when they had just been handed the pink slip. As I walked to and from work, I read headlines about a lousy Dow Jones, an increasing unemployment rate, and filings for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, not ideal to keep in mind right before starting a shift. It was particularly disheartening to listen to former senior employees of all walks of life having to consider other income alternatives and hashing out their retirement plans, especially because they were so close to enjoying their golden years, yet now very far. I called home every night and kept track of both my grandmothers’ individual dilemmas – Oma’s house had been on the bear market forever and Mak Yeay’s cataract eyes and varicose veins were becoming unpleasant to live with.

The times are tough for everybody, but they are taking an enormous toll on older persons who, I realized, are too often neglected in our daily lives. I geared my job search toward the aging field and gratefully so, as it lead me to an internship with GAA. I have had the opportunity to work alongside Susanne Paul and Magali Girod and a handful of brilliant fellow interns who have kept the organization’s momentum on fire in advocating for Member States of the United Nations to adopt a Convention on the Human Rights of Older Persons. One of our most effective ways of doing so is by producing the weekly GAA newsletter which touches every one of our audience members with its featured articles.

The article I would like to highlight is the ‘Government Bets on Chilotean Microenterprises and Older Persons’ article, written in Spanish, which can be found in this week’s Elder Rights, World Section. It presents the efforts of a Chilean community taking a grassroots approach of taking care of their elderly through local social enterprises. Briefly, the field of social entrepreneurship is a rapidly developing field in which the efficiency and profitability of a business meets with the social goals of a NGO. According to the article, regional authorities visited the city of Castro on Chiloé Island to meet with beneficiaries of microenterprises, including older persons. The Regional Secretary for Planning (SEREMI), Armando Pérez and the Regional Director of the Fund for Solidarity and Social Investment (FOSIS), Eugenio Pérez went with them to three of the many microenterprises that improve the quality of life of the island’s residents. They also learned about projects which focus on older persons to improve their quality of their lives and maintain their working capacity.

The article clearly illustrates that, contrary to current stigmas and their respective policies, older persons are active agents in their own lives and still have the vitality to participate in the local community. As a young adult, I draw strength to carry out the goals I have set for myself and to support the rights of older persons so that ultimately they, and I, may enjoy the fruits of our life-long labor.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Project FIND Aid for the Aged

One Thursday in mid-June, Global Action on Aging met with Debra Escort and David Gillcrist of Project FIND to learn more about their efforts to assist older persons in New York City. Project FIND Aid for the Aged, Inc. is committed to help older persons live active and independent lifestyles in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. With three housing residences and five senior centers, Project FIND ensures that older persons in New York can find housing, meals, social and physical activities that they otherwise would not normally have easy access to.

The Hamilton, The Hargrave, and The Woodstock are the three apartments that provide residents with on-site social workers who help facilitate tenant relations, hospital and nursing home admissions and discharges, and counseling. The demand for such housing is so great that the waitlist for The Hamilton alone is at least five years. Social workers in each residency facilitate communication between residents and programs such as Medicaid and Access a Ride and ensure that their needs are met accordingly. For those seniors who are still looking for a means to socialize and stay active, Project Find has five senior centers that are open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The senior centers are entirely free and are open to any adult over the age of 60, regardless of where they live or where they are from. At The Hamilton Senior Center, members can participate in belly dancing class, Tai Chi, Strength Training, Yoga, Computer Class, a Garden Club, Art, and Salsa to name a few. Residents and members range from healthy and active to homebound and homeless adults.

The New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) retracted its plan to restructure Senior Centers, which has assuaged the fear that many centers throughout the city would close. Project FIND’s Executive Director, David Gillcrist emphasizes that affordable housing is one of the foremost issues older persons in New York City face. The lack of accessible senior housing, and relatively little funding from the state and federal governments, are underlining concerns that are further compounded by poverty in New York City. The senior centers at Project FIND help reduce the stress of these issues. They serve as a way to stretch budgets and ensure that what little funding is available is maximized for senior use. There is a true sense of community throughout the residencies and senior centers, which provide an appropriate social space for older persons who do not wish to feel stigma often associated with nursing homes and other senior centers. Volunteers derive from all ages and many are residents themselves who are giving back to the Project FIND community.

Thanks to Debra and David for taking the time to meet with Global Action on Aging and to inform us about Project FINDS’ initiatives. FIND Aid for the Aged Inc. can be reached at (212) 874-0300 and can be accessed online at

Below you can find video selections of classes offered at Project FIND's Senior Centers:

Ken Gray's Qi Gong class at Hamilton Senior Center; Tom Campo conducts a Yoga class Clinton Senior Center; Donatas Nacajus conducts a dance class for seniors teaching rumba, foxtrot and salsa at Project Find's Hamilton Senior Center in New York City.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The New Timers!

One Tuesday in mid- May, Global Action on Aging (GAA) met with Gail Elberg, Director of All Stars Inc.(ASP), a volunteer driven non-profit organization that embraces three distinct programs: the All Stars Talent Show Network, the Development School for Youth, and the Castillo Theater. Located on West 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenue, the All Stars Project Inc. dates back over 30 years. It has remained independent of government funding in order to ensure its dedication to “promoting human development through the use of an innovative performance-based model.” ASP does leadership training, offering educational and performing arts activities for disenfranchised and minority youth. GAA wanted to know more about ASP’s Senior Theater Workshop, called The New Timers!, led by Director Vicky Wallace and Producer Dr. Susan Massad.

A group of fifteen to twenty older persons, called The New Timers!, refuse to conform to the labels of “senior” or “senior citizen,” thanks to the ASP philosophy that “everyone is a star.” The three-year old program has members ranging from their fifties to their eighties who meet each week to “play and explore issues of growth and development for older Americans” through improvisational games and exercises. The group demonstrates that through performance older people grow and develop. Additionally, many The New Timers double as volunteers at ASP and can be found helping out in the costume shop, the box office, or as house staff. Most members don’t come from theater backgrounds. They can find comfort in the laid-back, experimental atmosphere that facilitates personal growth and group harmony. Improvisation is the primary technique The New Timers! use to create a culture of solidarity. Characteristically diverse as an extension of the All Stars Inc., the group provides a performance space where everyone can find others who will respond and listen. Members say they have benefited tremendously from these experiences, reporting increased ease in talking in front of groups and gaining confidence to join other theater groups as well.

The New Timers! give back to New York City as performers at senior centers where they introduce older New Yorkers to the joys of improvisation. In the past year ASP has visited senior sites such as Encore, JASA, and Penn South; they plan to continue outreach to senior groups. One recent performance was based on a 10-week workshop that focused on “creating one’s day” rather than just keeping busy. Ms. Wallace considers this project as one of the group’s most successful and inspiring. She adds that older persons often see themselves as invisible consumers, limited by the constant barrage of commercialism that targets their age group. Instead, The New Timers! seeks to break through daily routines that promote inactivity by practicing pro-active techniques that help seniors ‘create’ their day. Through exercises such as “laughing yoga,” older New Yorkers find rejuvenation with The New Timers!. It allows anyone and everyone to show their hidden talents, find new ones, and express even their silliest of sides. Thanks to Gail, Vicky, and Susan for taking the time to meet with Global Action on Aging and tell us more about these creative social initiatives. The New Timers! is a free program and open to everyone that wants to join. Those interested may sign up by calling 212-941-9400, ext. 439.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Interview with Fredrick Blaszka, MD, who Treats Both Military Veterans and Civilians, Accumulating Extensive Experience in the Geriatric Field.

GAA: What problems do you see veterans encountering most in your practice? Are these mental or physical illnesses?

Dr. Blaszka: By far, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the most frequent diagnosis. Veterans are unique among other aging groups. Social perceptions of this disease have changed throughout the years. With World War II and Korean War veterans, these symptoms were not considered a disease in the 1940’s and 50’s. Medically speaking, little was done to assure proper treatment for such cases. In general, society saw such symptoms as something ‘less than manly.’ A very macho attitude dominated the military during this period. No soldier wanted to be treated for something that was seen as cowardly. I can recall the famous incident of General George S. Patton slapping a soldier who had been hospitalized for battle fatigue. Such harsh reprisal to a sick soldier opened US eyes toward such conditions. It wasn’t until the Vietnam War that PTSD emerged as a widely accepted physical and mental consequence of war. Unfortunately, a large number of older veterans (WW2 and Korean War era) spent many years in neglect and suffered even greater consequences of untreated PTSD.

GAA: To what extent do you feel that older persons, veterans and non-veterans alike, are informed and are aware of the risk of HIV/AIDS?

Dr. Blaszka: Just like PTSD, many social taboos surround HIV/AIDS. Many older patients think of themselves as ‘exempt’ from contracting HIV/AIDS. Often, they regard it as disease that only younger people contract. Many racial and socioeconomic prejudices get ascribed to HIV/AIDS. Older patients are not willing to accept their risk at face value. I generally try to promote HIV/AIDS awareness among my patients.

GAA: As a geriatrician, to what extent do you encourage your patients to take an active role in society?

Dr. Blaszka: We have clinical programs that help older persons maintain a healthy lifestyle. The key component is activity. Usually every three to six months patients have a lifestyle evaluation to learn what they need to do to become more active. I always stress that staying socially active is just as important being physically active. Creating weekly habits, like visiting a certain friend or going to some sort of group activity, is essential to living a longer, happier life. I also encourage the physically able to take a part-time job, which in addition to the obvious financial advantage, has tremendous mental benefits as well.

Global Action on Aging thanks Dr. Blaszka for major health issues that he observes as a geriatrician. While these concerns are rooted in specific medical and health circumstances that older persons face, they are made even more difficult social taboos centering around HIV/AIDS and mental disorders.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Conclusion of Aukje de Vries' Diary

Global Action on Aging thanks Aukje de Vries for sharing her life with us over the last four months via her blog. Aukje has a strong commitment to social justice and according older women and men the respect and material means that we justly deserve. She gave readers a window into her life at home, in her encounters with authorities, in many aging organizations, among her friends, or at the theater, on her bike and at the beach. Aukje spotted injustice among policymakers and bureaucrats and described the careless ignorance of older persons’ needs she encountered. Most importantly, she shared her joys with us. Many thanks, Aukje. Keep up your good work!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 69

In the morning I do my grocery shopping and then do some work on the diary. Late in the afternoon Martje comes over. We have to fill out a form on the computer to book our trip to Japan. After we have had some tea with a delicious piece of cake, which Martje has brought, we go to my study. As usual there are some surprises while we fill out the form, but we run into real problems when we try to book a room in the city where the congress will take place. The travel agency does not have any connections in that town, but I have got the names of three hotels recommended by the congress organisers. We try to find them on the internet. The information is limited, although there are many sites on which we can find the hotels, but when we try to book two single rooms the problems begin. The prices are higher than the congress organisers have indicated, we are told that the hotel has no rooms available (could that be because we want single rooms – that has happened to me before), the website says the price may be raised or lowered, so that we do not know what we sign up for and we notice that on most sites we are not connected directly to the hotel but to a booking agency. No wonder this makes it more expensive. It is already quite late when we decide to give up. I’ll get in touch with the congress organisers. I cook a meal and after we have eaten Martje goes home. It will be a short night: one hour less because tomorrow summer time begins.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 68

On Fridays my cleaning lady comes. She starts with my study and I do other chores in the mean time. The rest of the day I do work at the computer, nothing worth mentioning happens.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 67

Today, finally the Parliament can give its opinion. The opposition is furious. Why couldn’t they participate in making plans, why are the social partners heard before the Parliament? The one substantial measure that the government had in its plan: raising the age for the state pension is now uncertain because of the actions of the trade union. The decision is delayed by half a year and people do not know what is going to happen. When the leader of the fraction of the Christian Democrats says at the beginning of the debate that the government has made a well balanced proposal and that not much can be changed now that an agreement has been reached, this is more than one of the opposition parties finds acceptable. The whole fraction of 9 MPs leaves the room. It is a very unusual move and draws a lot of attention of the media.
The other opposition fractions stay in the room and they all are of the opinion that it is bad that the plans have been made by just a small group of people. All the other 147 MPs had no influence. Is that democracy? The other opposition parties stay in the room and launch fierce attacks with few results. The debate lasts all day until late in the evening. The opposition parties get two of their ideas adopted, but they are only minor additions to the agreement. There is a lot of criticism that the government has not stood firm on raising the age required for the state pension.
I only see part of the debate. I do not have the patience to sit and watch all day long. I have more to do. I wonder though what will happen to health care. I understand that there will be important cutbacks on the allowances people get to pay for their health care insurance. This is bad news for people with a lower income.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 66

It is dreadful weather, cold, windy and rainy. The gardener is coming today. Poor guys, who have to work outside on a day like this. They usually come a little after 8, I have to get up early. One of the two men who come I know, the other is new. I explain to them what I want to be done. They go ahead and I can go to my study.
Today the government is going to present its plan to deal with the economic crisis. Over the past days the criticism has grown about the government, talking and talking but not doing anything. For three weeks seven people have been discussing in seclusion the measures that need to be taken to deal with the recession. They are the Prime Minister, who in this case does not represent his party but plays the role of an impartial Head of Government, a Minister of each party represented in the government and the leaders of the three parliamentary sections represented in the government. The diagnosis of the situation is that the three parties have renegotiated the pact that they concluded two years ago when they came into power. The rumours are that all three parties are unwilling to give in on issues that are significant for them, such as tax deductions for the mortgage people have on their house (Christian Democrats). This is especially advantageous for people with high incomes and very expensive housing, because taxes are progressive. This tax deduction costs the public treasury a fortune. Another one is what is mockingly called the kitchen sink subsidy. This s a tax benefit for couples, when only one of the two is in paid employment. This is a major issue for the Christian Union, which likes mothers to stay at home with their kids. The third big issue is social security and more specifically the unemployment benefit and the long-term care insurance which are important for the Labour Party. It is rather late in the day when the Prime Minister finally makes public what the three parties have agreed. They have only drawn one daring conclusion: the age at which people are entitled to the state pension is to be raised from 65 to 67.
After the PM has officially presented the plan the negotiators have invited the social partners (employers and trade unions) to discuss the plan with them.
The trade union FNV has fiercely opposed raising the age for the state pension and they obtain the concession that they get half a year to work with the SER (the Social and Economic Council) to find an alternative with the same positive effects on the national budget. The leader of FNV (a woman) is triumphant: we have got the proposal off the table she says! That still remains to be seen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 65

Today is a quiet day. I can work at the computer and I have to go to the hairdresser in the afternoon. In the morning the more detailed plan for the trip to Japan arrives. It looks good, except that it leaves less time than I would like for Kyoto, where I know there are many beautiful temples and I want to see quite a few of them and try to take pictures. I copy the plan to send it by snail mail to Martje.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 64

I have to go to Utrecht. In October I am supposed to go to a meeting in Japan and Martje and I have decided we want to use that opportunity to go and travel in Japan. I have been there once for a short visit, when I went to a conference and thought I’d like to go back there to see some more, so now is the time. In Utrecht there is a travel agency that specialises in trips to the far East. Martje’s friends are very positive about this agency and my travel agency in The Hague has told me that they always consult the one in Utrecht when they are asked to organise a trip to that region. Martje and I have made an appointment to see one of their consultants.
The train to Utrecht stops at a station, where it is not supposed to stop. It stands there, doors closed, nothing happens. It takes quite some time before we get a clarification. There has been an accident with a freight train on the line. The tracks between this station and Utrecht are blocked. Dutch Rail is discussing what to do. After a while we are told we will take a different route, but eventually will get to Utrecht. We get going, but stop frequently. Then the news is that the train will not go to Utrecht at all, but will pick up its normal route by going to the station that comes after Utrecht. Passengers for Utrecht have to take a train back. Fortunately I have a brochure of the travel agency with me with its telephone number so I can call them and let them know that I will be late. I arrive with a delay of no less than 2 hours in Utrecht. I wonder whether Martje, who has come from Rotterdam, has had the same problems. I don’t see her, so I go to the travel agency. Yes, she is there: she had had the last train before the accident. She discovered in Utrecht at the station, when I did not show up what the reason was.
The consultant who talks with us has many good ideas and it does not take very long before we have figured out what we can do and like to do. She will work out this provisional plan and then send it to me by e-mail. Martje does not (yet) have a computer.
It rains and it is very grey and cold but we go into town to have some lunch. We find a nice café, have a leisurely meal and then go to the station. The obstruction has not yet been removed so the best thing to do is to travel via Schiphol, a detour of about half an hour. Fortunately the train is not too crowded.
Later in the day we hear the damage on the railroad has been considerable and the tracks cannot be used for several more days.
I have to hurry, because in the evening there is the meeting of the citizens’ panel.
In the neighbourhood centre there are about 20 people gathered for the meeting. It is presided over by the Director of the city section, the same person, who chaired the meeting on March 5th, when we discussed the municipal plan for the neighbourhood.
She opens the sessions and confronts us right away with a disappointing message. Just last week the municipal council has decided to suspend the creation of any more citizens’ panels.
They have received negative comments from various existing organisations that are afraid these panels will only double their activities. This has to be figured out first before the green light can be given for more than the already two existing citizens’ panels. In spite of this the Director does not want to send us home without having a discussion. Maybe there are other options. She is happy that the people who are there have bothered to come. We introduce ourselves and I notice that other than the three persons of our informal neighbourhood group there are only four persons who have come as interested citizens, all the others are representatives of formal organisations who in one way or another want to do something for the people living in this neighbourhood. A representative of the neighbourhood care organisation is there as well as someone of the older home care organisation. There is also a staff member of a care home, two members of the board of the official neighbourhood association and two board members of a sports organisation, some staff members of community organisations and of the city section. Some of the same points come up that were brought forward before. But there are also new items. The care home, for instance, wants to have a function for people in the neighbourhood but does not succeed in getting people, living in their own homes in the neighbourhood, to use its facilities. The same is true for one other care home, not represented here. Somehow they do not manage to reach the persons who could use the facilities. It is suggested that they could make known their menus, letting people know that they can come over for a meal. Another suggestion is to invite people and treat them to coffee with cakes on the occasion of the elections for the European Parliament. Usually there are polling stations in the care homes so people living in the neighbourhood have to go there anyway, if they are treated and informed about the services of the care home it may serve to lower the threshold. Another new issue that comes up is the position of the expats. There are quite a few in the neighbourhood but they do not mix very well. Many of them don’t speak Dutch and the locals do not make it easy for them to learn because when the expats try to speak Dutch they usually get an answer in English. That is anything but encouraging. They also feel uncertain about informal rules of conduct that are never explained. Whom can they turn to? I suggest that older people can play a role here. I know that this is being done in Rotterdam. Martje is teaching several expats and with some of them she has become friends. She got involved through an organisation called the Guild, which also has a branch in The Hague. The sports organisation mentions that their premises are open to all citizens. They will be glad to host meetings and have people come over for a meal or to watch competitions.
At the end of the meeting the Director is quite satisfied that new ideas have come up and she wants to keep the people who were present involved, she proposes that a new meeting will be organised by one of the community organisations to see how some plans can be put into practice.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 63

In spite of the poor weather forecast it is still sunny and I can sit and read in my garden. The new neighbours (they are French) are working in their garden. They cut some of the trees the previous owner had planted. The latter was fond of trees and had far too many for a city garden. I used to ask him to cut them back occasionally, because his garden is directly to the south of mine, so that his trees take away a lot of sunshine in my garden. I like to grow plants and flowers, but on the side of his garden this is hardly possible. I see my new neighbour with a simple hand saw work on the trees. It is amazing how much he gets done, but he does it in a rather unprofessional way. I have more light in my garden now, but I cannot say it looks particularly nice. And then he starts building a cabin, in the remains of one tree and puts three big red flags on top of it. I am sure his three young boys will love it, but to me it looks horrible. I wonder whether he is aware of the regulations by the city: we are not supposed to take trees down without a permit from the local authority. Earlier my gardener used to do it without permit: who will see it other than the neighbours? But he recently told me that at present the local authorities take pictures from the air and they can see where trees are cut. When you are being found out you get a fine. I consider telling my neighbour but the harm has been done now, there is no point in disquieting him. I do at least one useful thing: I clean the balcony behind my bedroom. There is always a lot of dirt on it from leaves, and what not. It is surprising how much I have collected recently.. In the evening there is on television, what is called a docu-drama. It is about the nomination of the Dutch Secretary General of NATO. As the programme says: Since we do not know what has happened in reality, we can have our fantasies about it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 62

Another very sunny, but cold day. The weather forecast says it will be the last sunny day. I will not let it go by unused. I get out my tour bicycle. I have a city bike that I bought second hand, but which serves me well for smaller distances in the city, and another, better bicycle that I use when going on longer trips. In the winter I cover it up, but now that spring is coming it is time to get it out. I go to a village, north of The Hague. It is said to be one of the richest communities in the country, but it has a nice old centre and a shopping street where many attractive shops are close together.

One of the things I hope to get there is a special kind of cat food, that I could not find any more in the supermarket close to where I live. The only supermarkets that are at a reasonable distance from my home belong to the same chain, called AH, so I have to go quite far when I want to shop in a different supermarket. The bike trip is nice. There are many crocuses and daffodils along the way. I do find the cat food I was looking for, but I also find things I did not look for: summer clothes. It is still cold and in order to try them on I have take off lots of clothes, but if I wait till later, the nicest items may have gone. I take a long time to make up my mind but end up with quite a few items, which can be combined nicely.

It will become urgent to go through my wardrobes and decide what to part with, which I find extremely difficult. I am always inclined to think that clothes, however old, might still come in handy some day, even if it were only to wear them on days when I don’t have to go out and have to do house work or gardening.

I see that the weekly journal of the Hague has a large article with a photograph of Trine and her colleague about the new museum. She is given a lot of credit for her work. That is very good, she deserves it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 61

In the morning I have a call with several other members of the board of the organisation where we have problems. What the problems are is clear to all of us, so we need not dwell long on them. The question is now: what to do. We decide on some steps to be taken consecutively. I hope we will be successful. We all regret that the poor leadership is such a liability for the organisation and might even jeopardise its future.

At the end of the morning I take the train to Leiden where I will have lunch with Hanneke, the friend who is teaching at a college in Leiden. She is still very busy with her caring obligations. Her father lives by himself but has a terminal disease, his three daughters try to take care of him, with the help of the home care services, but now that one of the sisters is in hospital herself so caregiving has become difficult. The problem is that the father and the sister in hospital feel that the father should remain in his own home till the very end, but Hanneke is of the opinion that the decision ought to depend on the possibilities they have to take care of him. She has her own family, some obligations to members of her husband’s relatives and her job, so she has drawn a line and stated clearly what she can and cannot do. She feels guilty about it, but I think she has made the right decision and tell her I fully understand. We always enjoy seeing each other. Today we can sit outside while we chat. This time there are no stories about her college, where the managers have taken over, like in long-term care. Before we know it the time is up and Hanneke has to go back to work. I do not yet go home but take a walk through the city. I studied in Leiden, some 50 years ago. The city has changed. A lot of renovation has been done, but the character of the city has been well preserved. I walk through many streets I know, have a look at the house where I lived (it does not look good, but I guess there are still students living there, there are so many names on the door), enjoy one of the parks, but then hurry to the station, because I have to be home in time to have dinner and get ready to go to the theatre with Esther.

The play is in a theatre in Scheveningen, called de Appel (the Apple). The building is an ancient coach house from the time there were horse-drawn coaches. It has a very nice atmosphere. It is anything but posh, but rather primitive and cosy. Sometimes they also serve meals before the performance but not today.

The play has been written by a member of the Apple Company. In fact it is almost all pantomime, about various people who have an allotment garden and all do their own thing. They have their small cabins close to one another, but have hardly any contacts. Then a new couple appears on the scene making a lot of noise. But even that does not bring them together. There is no story to the performance. We have many questions about what the author is trying to tell us and what the behaviour of some of the actors is supposed to represent. What we appreciate most is the performance by an older actress (whom we like very much anyway) who is playing the role of a person with dementia. It is incredible how well she shows exclusively by her movements, her posture and her expression that she suffers from dementia.

Esther and I are curious what the reviews will say about the play. The official opening performance is still to come. We expect the reviews will be published afterwards.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 60

A civil servant of the Ministry of Health Welfare and Sports (VWS) calls. He is dealing with the complaint we have filed with the Ombudsman. He apologizes and recognises our letter was not dealt with properly. He also invites me for a meeting in person. I prefer to do this with at least one other member of the group, so he sends me a list of dates and I will check with the others.

I also receive news that the other organisation, where we have problems, will receive a payment for its activities. This was already in the air, but we had to wait until another agency had made a similar decision. Now the two agencies have sent us their positive decision, which I immediately forward to all the members of the board. Most of them send me congratulations. It will make it a lot easier to function, but we will have to remember it is for one year only. As yet we do not have any structural funding.

It is another cold but bright day so I go again to Scheveningen, where there is a market today. It looks cheerful and is much more crowded than in the previous weeks.