UN Commission on Social Development: Kim and Kenneth's intergenerational experience
I knew we had at least two things in common before walking into the UN Commission on Social Development together: we both care about older people and we are both attending our very first UN meeting.
For Kenneth, a soft-spoken yet percipient older activist from Jamaica, this was his first time representing his older persons association in the United States.
An intergenerational match made in HelpAge heaven
For me, a relatively new addition to HelpAge USA, this was my first dip into social policy as an older persons' advocate. We were an intergenerational match made in HelpAge heaven.
What better prelude to the UN Commission on Social Development - an international gathering to discuss this year's theme of poverty eradication - than attending the Civil Society (NGO) Forum hosted a day before the opening convocation?
What was clear from the many representatives of NGOs and international speakers, the existence and perpetuation of poverty has a profound, even emotional impact on many who have never experienced it firsthand at all.
Indeed, the collective desire to eradicate the social and economic implications of global poverty is evident here and inspiring.
Yet although the ageing was identified as a vulnerable group in several discussions, there is an astonishing lack of attention given to older people's experience, or more specifically what it is like to be old and poor.
"How can you fix poverty without speaking to older people?"
When I leaned over and asked Kenneth about what he thought about this yesterday, he smiled and said: "It's like going to the doctor and the doctor prescribing the patient medicine without ever seeing him.
"How can these people fix poverty without ever speaking to older people?"
I was tempted to write that on a notecard and send it up to the Chairman. (I didn't.)
Several positive traces at the CSD are identifiable.
An open-ended working group on ageing was established this year, which HelpAge International supports, and several well-attended side events on the topic of global ageing were hosted by AARP.
Clearly, there is growing awareness that the world is getting older.
Yvan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary-General of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, affirmed this when he said that "the single most pressing issue for all states is ageing populations".
Though whenever the phrase "poverty has a face" was cited mellifluously by speakers, as it was several times, I couldn't help but look over to Kenneth, who was always attentively listening to the distinguished panelists on the podium.
Including older voices
"We struggle in Jamaica," he told me during our walk to the lunch building today. I had read and heard enough statistics and studies to know this but it really did feel different hearing it from my new friend Kenneth.
It is undeniable: including older people in social policy and development is crucial to the goal of eradicating poverty. However, the only convincing way we can send this message is through older people's voices.
Kenneth will be reading the HelpAge International statement to the entire delegation at the Commission this week, as well as presenting at two side events about his work as president of the Rivolli Senior Citizens Club in Jamaica where he lives.
I asked him if he was excited to be here. He offered his usual smile and gentle quip, "Yeah, mon."
I am too.