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International Federation on Ageing Global Conference: HelpAge goes to Prague

07 Jun 2012

Last week, International Federation on Ageing's 11th Global ConfIFA conference in Prague 2012erence took place in the picturesque city of Prague, Czech Republic. The theme of this year's conference was "Ageing Connects". Discussions revolved around active ageing, ending elder abuse, age-friendly communities, and the importance of a future UN convention on older people's human rights.

The conference was attended by a wide variety of people working to improve the lives of the world's growing population of older people. The major aim was to urge politicians and other policy influencers to acknowledge and take action on the implications of global ageing.

Among conference participants were a number of HelpAge Affiliates, Ambassadors and partners.

Role of social pensions at the local level

Some of the really interesting presentations were given by Thandi Yeni from Muthande Society for the Aged (MUSA), our Affiliate in Durban, South Africa. Thandi shared her experiences of working as a volunteer with MUSA. She emphasised the great successes the organisation has experienced with their literacy programmes for poor older people in the local communities.Thandi Yeni from MUSA (left) and Sylvia Beales from HelpAge

Thandi also talked about how MUSA is supporting older people who care for family members living with HIV or AIDS.

Finally, Thandi talked about how MUSA offers financial advice to older people, who receive small pension grants: "MUSA advises them on how to handle their finances and helps them to supplement the little they get from the department. I'm not saying that it's little, but that it is not enough because it is not just for the older person. They share it with their family members who are unemployed".

Thandi's presentation gave us a glimpse into the lives of poor older people on a very local level. It also highlighted the importance of social pensions and other forms of assistance for these older people and their families.

Importance of age-friendly communities

HelpAge's Global Ambassador, Dr Alexandre Kalache also gave a very thought-provoking presentation. Dr Kalache is the former head of the Ageing and Life Course Programme at World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr Kalache has been working on global ageing and health issues for close to 40 years. His inputs to the conference were invaluable. He also coined a new concept, "gerontolescence", a term that establishes the fact that older people all over the world are deeply productive, but also deeply unprotected.

In his presentation on age-friendly communities, Dr Kalache gave a quite eye-catching example of a not so age-friendly building – the WHO headquarters in Vienna. During Dr Kalache's time at WHO, there was a beautiful flight of marble stairs in one of the central areas of the building. The marble was in black and white nuances, which of course looked very pretty, but also made it very difficult for people with visual difficulties (often older people) to see the steps. Furthermore, the stairs had no handle bars at the sides and finally, and this fact caused quite a giggle among the audience, someone had chosen to plant cacti on the right side of the stairs.

He did mention that the stairs at WHO had been improved since his time there, but he also stressed that there is a long way to go to make our communities age-friendly.

Let's make it ageless!Sylvia Beales on the Ageing and Development panel

The final panel debate of the IFA conference was on Ageing and Development. Here, Baroness Sally Greengross, another HelpAge global ambassador, spoke about the importance of rights for older people and how to build rights into the practical work with and for older people.

On the same panel, Sylvia Beales, HelpAge International's Head of Strategic Alliances, gave a presentation on some of the work we do. This included our engagement in the review of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA), where HelpAge is leading the work to collect the voices of the world's older people for the report.

Sylvia also mentioned our Make it Ageless campaign, which is an intergenerational, cross-regional campaign aimed to make sure that future EU-funded projects improve the lives of the world's older people.

Well done Zivot 90!

HelpAge International's Affiliate in the Czech Republic, Zivot 90, was co-organising the conference with IFA. Every place you went on the conference, a staff  member of Zivot 90 was tHelen Hamlin receives an award from Jan Lormanhere to assist you in their conspicuous yellow t-shirt! They did a great job at ensuring that everything went off smoothly! 

During the closing ceremony of the conference on the Friday, Zivot 90's staff, led by president, Jan Lorman, received a well-deserved applause for their hard work. At the same time, the staff handed out sunflowers to the conference participants as a souvenir.

Mr. Lorman also handed out awards to a number of key people including soon to be 90-years-old, Helen Hamlin, who is still playing a very active role in both IFA and the New York committee on ageing. Dr Kalache was also awarded a prize for his dedication and work.

Suffice to say that the conference was a great success! Exchanging experiences and knowledge-sharing with each other were great learning opportunities for everyone present.

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Anders Hylander
Job title: Network Comms Officer

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.