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Congratulations to an inspirational older lady!

18 Dec 2012

Volunteering in AfricaEarlier this month in Brussels, the official awards ceremony for the 2012 European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations took place.

Carolina Beilsma of the Granny2Granny project, which is supported by WorldGranny, HelpAge's Affiliate in the Netherlands, got second place in the Life Story award category. 

I wanted to say congratulations to Carolina for her great work and for raising the profile of global ageing!

Read on to find out why this award was thoroughly deserved.

Committed volunteer

Carolina Beilsma is 72 and has been a committed volunteer for WorldGranny for five years. From the age of 58 to 70, she worked as an unpaid consultant at the Dutch Council for Refugees, helping dozens of refugees in the Netherlands to find work.

For Carolina, retiring at 65 was not an option. She'd had a career as a textile, food and health sciences teacher. So in 1985, Carolina decided to expand her horizons, leaving behind her work and moving to Zimbabwe. Ten years later, she came back with new ideals and a firm purpose for her later life.

Carolina said: "In Zimbabwe and later in Kenya, I have really seen the glaring difference in wealth between these countries and our rich Netherlands. I went over there to teach, and for me it was also an adventure, but soon I realised that I wanted to do something useful.

"Two women came up to me, full of curiosity and asked: ‘Can we learn too?' So at weekends, under a tree, I taught them how they could mend clothing. Eventually I tried to teach them how, through this type of work, they could generate their own income."

Grannies2Grannies

Carolina was working for The Broadcast Managers Programme when she came across WorldGranny. Inspired by our work, she took up the task of setting up a Grannies2Grannies (G2G) group in Amsterdam.

Carolina added: "I gathered a bunch of grandmas to support five development projects in the developing world. In these countries, it's the grandmothers that often care for their grandchildren, because the parents of these children have died from AIDS related illnesses."

All the grandmothers who have been part of Grannies2Grannies Amsterdam for a long time have lived and worked in Africa. Last summer, three grannies, including Carolina, visited a housing project initiative in Uganda that focuses on improving the living conditions of grandmothers there.

The project which provided one hundred new houses for grandmothers, is an initiative of the Ugandan organisation PEFO (Phoebe Education Fund for AIDS Orphans).

Care in Uganda

Carolina began her own research into the care in Uganda. She collected life stories from several grannies that need care for their grandchildren, organised group discussions and put together questionnaires. Back in the Netherlands, Carolina repeated this and started talking with Dutch foster grandparents.

She concluded: "I want to make the care in my country and Uganda the same. I asked questions like ‘Who took care of you when you were growing up and who do you take care of? And now you're older, will you need help with care?'

"My motivation is still based on the confrontation that I experienced when I saw real poverty. Maybe it has to do with my upbringing. I have this feeling that I should make myself useful. Caring for your fellow man is extremely important.

"As long as I have new possibilities, I will gladly use them. That is the basis from which I wish to live. And there is no hair on my head that will ever stop thinking this, even when I'm 100-years-old."

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Mieke Storms
 
Job title: WorldGranny Communications Officer

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