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Mission exemplary in caring for the elderly but needs government boost

31st August 2012
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  An investigative story by this paper recently revealed the appalling situation of the camps accommodating people with disability most of whom are the elderly people. The survey was done at Nunge camp in Dar es Salaam and Fungafunga in Morogoro municipality. This time a camp for the same in Kibaha gives a different picture of how well to manage and care for people with disabilities. It has however complained that the government does not give a helping hand

The idea to form Mission to Unreached Areas Church (MUAC) was in 1986 in Nairobi during the All-African Church Congress.

An Israeli Morice Cenulo ignited the call in Bishop Samuel Meena and when he returned home he started it knowing that there would also be people with disabilities including the elderly who would need help.

As a start, he spread the gospel in the coastal belt in like Kwa Ruhambo, Kibindu and other places in the costal areas.

“There was little resistance in some Islamic dominated area of the coastal belt, but we were encouraged by President Jakaya Kikwete’s regular statements telling his fellow Muslims that he also attended a Christian school.

“Please welcome them such because they are pro-development,” he quoted the president as saying.

There are around 400 such churches spread in the whole of Tanzania now,” he noted adding,” our establishment also owns nine colleges offering theology. They are in Nachingwea, Kilombero, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Manyara, Coast Region and Mbeya among other places.

“As for the elderly here we provide them with clothes, food and accommodation along with treatment,” the bishop said.

He says the mission is also entrenched in Maasai area where it sensitizes people on development issues and digs wells to provide clean water for the residents. This is also done in Mgeta area, Coast Region.

“At least 30 percent of our activities are social,” he says.

According to Bishop Samwel Meena, Coast Regions with a big population of helpless elderly people.

“In the districts of the Coast Region, because of their proximity to Dar es Salaam, many youth migrate to the city to seek for employment, leaving the older people subjected to solitude and unattended.

“We also had a case of an old woman here who was raped by her own son. She stayed here for two years and after she recovered from trauma we sent her back home,” she testifies.

“We still have some few old women here. There was no people to take care of them at home,” he says.

“ Some of them it is the government which has asked us care some after their close relatives have died, leaving them alone,” he notes.

The centre has now five elderly people. In 2008 when the centre started, there were eight of them. The aim is to have 20 of them.

“It is not a small thing to care for the elderly. We have to make sure that they are well fed and to refer to higher health facilities if they develop health complications,” he says.

“It is costly, that is why we are not letting others to come to our centre. We spend hundreds of thousands to care for these four elderly people a month,” he says.

The centre has a public health officer, with some retired nurses who come on voluntary basis. They are given a token every month.

On why men are not at the camp, he says,“It is difficult to convince men to come to the centre although we are able to accommodate them. They say they would rather die in their homesteads keeping safe their family property,” he notes.

The bishop however noted with concern over what he said was the government deaf ear to the problems at the centre, stressing, “no government official has ever visited the centre since its establishment and has never extended help.”

“Essentially this work of taking care of the elderly is bestowed in the hands of the government. We are helping the government,” he notes.

He says the government could help in providing them with clinical attendants and pay for them.

“It would have been easier for the attendants because already we have a laundry machine which could ease work,” he says.

Coming from different backgrounds the elderly are difficult to attend.

“Sometimes they yearn for mchunga- a wild sour edible leaves. They sometimes want us to cook for them ‘ugali wa mhogo’- stiff porridge from dried cassava.”

“We are now asking for Samaritans to come to our aid so that we could allow more elderly women to be accommodated here,” he says.

Despite difficulties, he says they would still go on with the spirit of helping the elderly because “we are accountable to God.”

The Deputy Bishop of the Mission to Unreached Area Church (MUAC), Jackson Lymo noted that the elderly situation of the country is a challenge.

“We feel the government must come to our aid,” he says.

He says for example that when the elderly people at the centre are referred to government health facilities in the district like the Mlandizi Health Centre, they are forced to pay fees.

“This is despite the fact that the constitution allows the elderly to get heath services free of charge,” he says.

He adds, “Why is it that women who attend maternal and child health services do not pay any fees for services offered to them.”

An elderly Susan Makinda (85) at the centre testifies that she is well attended to by the centre.

Christina Ephaim who hails from Tanga says the centre is a good dwelling place for the elderly like herself.

Mama Maria Remy (75) from Mlandizi says she is well served by the Church.

Naome Kondo (103) notes that she hopes she will spend the rest of her life happily at the centre.

A cook at the centre, Christina Msengi reveals that the centre offers balanced diet. I wish all the elderly people in the country could live the way these elderly people live.

The subject of old age and aging has been of great concern to the international community particularly in view of economic, political and social dimensions.

The United Nations Organization reports show that there has been an increase in number of older people in the world. The increase has been demonstrated more in developing nations like Tanzania where the rates do not match with the available resources to cater for older people’s health, nutrition and other basic services essential for human life.

According to the UN older people will reach 625 million by 2005. In the African continent alone, that number is expected to increase from the present 38 million to 212 million in 20150.

This number however is a challenge because the government is called upon to put in place the vital infrastructure for providing services to older people.

According to available statistics, Tanzania with an estimated total population of 33,500,000/- has about 1.4 million older people (4 percent of the total population) aged 60 years and above. This figure is expected to increase by the year 2050.

Older women are more affected by old age problems. Women live longer than men, that is why there are more older women than men.

Besides, older women struggle against problems related to their gender. Furthermore, older women are denied the right to inherit and own property including land. In some areas women have been raped and killed due to superstitious beliefs.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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