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Serbia: Self-help groups bring communities together

12 Feb 2014

An older man shows his strength. (c) Mina DelicThe Red Cross of Serbia has set up 48 older people's self-help groups, which bring together 462 senior citizens across Serbia.

The project empowers older people to get involved in the issues that affect their lives; to help themselves by taking part in the self-help groups, as well as contributing to their communities. The groups are also a way for older people to help their peers who cannot come to the meetings due to disability or illness.

Discussions on issues that impact older people

Group meetings provide support to members through discussions on health, discrimination, poverty, neglect, family problems, loneliness and bereavement. They are also used to plan community activities and identify peers who might be in need and ways of helping them.

Two groups from Kovin have sold painted glass items that were made by their members. The money collected was used to buy materials to make more glasses, vases and ashtrays.

In the town of Negotin, group members organised support and food for the most vulnerable older people living alone through working with different organisations and institutions.

In Velika Plana, older people who are more mobile help those who are less so with their gardening and growing food. This all female group used some of their money to buy wool and knit gloves and socks for homeless people.

A group affiliated with the Red Cross Day Care Centre in Pirot has improved the living conditions of an older disabled man who had not left the house for years. Through the initiative of the group, they have raised funds to build a ramp for him so that he can leave the house and join the self-help group meetings.

Bettering communities

An older woman with her embroidery. (c) Mina DelicThe Red Cross of Kragujevac helped establish seven of the self-help groups. One of which identified a problem in their village: their water pipes were made with asbestos. The group notified their community and get support to successfully lobby the local government so the pipes were replaced.

Another group managed to successfully lobby for an additional bus stop between two communities, which gives them better access to the nearby hospital.

The groups in the municipality of Savski Venac have organised several actions to encourage older people to be active members of the community; these include painting workshops led by professional painters. Established Serbian painters have also donated some of their paintings which – combined with the group's own – are now part of an exhibition. However, the biggest impact was that the US Ambassador agreed to organise another exhibition at the Embassy to raise money for food and other essentials items, such as soap, for the poorest families in the municipality.

The success of the project lies in its sustainability (very little funding is needed – mainly just some motivation, space and refreshments) and its flexibility (older people themselves identify the problems they want to address).

Older people’s activism and social inclusion also serves as an advocacy platform for them to ask for changes to better their lives and those of their entire communities.

Find out more about our campaigns to empower older people around the world.

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Author profile

Natasa Todorovic
Country: Serbia
Job title: Health and Care Program Manager

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