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Leading campaigners to a UN convention

07 Aug 2014

Older activists including Jamaica's Kenneth Hemley united to lobby for a UN convention on the rights of older people in July. Kenneth, 73, travelled to the United Nations in New York to present the almost 300,000-signature (and thumbprint) petition to Mateo Estrémé, chair of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing. Here, Kenneth tells us his story:

Handing over the petition. (c) Anton Brookes/HelpAge InternationalI grew up in Spanish Town, Jamaica. My grandmother brought me up from the time I was four years old. I had nine brothers and six sisters. I finished school at 15 and started working in construction.

I learned all different skills; plumbing, carpentry and all sorts of other things. I met my wife when she was 14 and I was 16. Years later we were married and had nine children.

I wanted a job that would guarantee a pay packet, so my friend got me a job at a local textile mill. I started working there when I was 29. I ended up working at the mill for 19 years.

I was never a union delegate but people used to come to me for advice. I've always been a people's man, some of the delegates were very corrupt.

Empowering older people

I became a part of the Age Demands Action campaign in 2009 when I was 70 years old. I soon started being one of the main speakers. In 2011 I went to a meeting in New York at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and saw the good things they were doing, especially the way they empowered older people. It's important for older people to be empowered and not to rely on handouts, but for us to be able to do things ourselves.

I used to go to the post office to pick up my pension cheque and there was a lady there that used to ignore me and was rude whenever I came in. One day she was really impatient with me, I looked at her and said, "this money I'm collecting – this is my money. It comes from my pension that I receive from working all my life. This is not a handout. I don't come begging to you – so don't deal with me like that".

I was angry. I felt like she thought I shouldn't be receiving the pension that I deserved. If something is affecting me, then I complain. This is why we need to campaign, we need to change attitudes.

Calling for a convention

As a part of my campaigning with HelpAge I have just been to New York to hand over a petition that people all over the world have signed calling for a convention for older people. We handed over 278, 638 signatures to the Chair of the Open-ended Working Group on ageing on behalf of the HelpAge network.

I also spoke in the meeting, sharing the views of older people and asking for more to be done to protect older people. I told them that older people are not prepared to wait another 66 years for our Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I feel good being an advocate for myself and other older people.

My dream is to bring members together from all different clubs, to form a coalition. Let us speak with one voice. I want a coalition to work on national and international views like a convention on the rights of older people. We need to do something to protect our treasure!

We are the ones who built the cities, who have paid taxes and are the ones who have raised the youth of today. We are important and we have rights. I want older people to know what their rights are and to fight for those rights. That is what the ADA campaign does.

Find out more about the Age Demands Action campaign.

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Kenneth Hemley

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