Lasting impressions of an inspiring trip to Kenya
This June, I spent a day with my son and his wife, amidst a team dedicated to empowering older people in a poor area of Kenya. I was visiting a project as part of my job working for Age UK, HelpAge International's sister organisation.
That was inspiring in itself; however it was meeting the older people who were leading their local community, which was the really moving and humbling experience of our visit to Mangu, Kenya.
The first project provides funding for work for older people with orphans and vulnerable children. The second supports older people, orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS. We were lucky enough to meet the planners, the shapers and the receivers of both projects. This gave us a sense of both why they had been put in place and how successful they were.
There are so many positive things to say but here I focus on the areas that left a lasting impression.
Firstly, the project's ambition was to put local people at the heart of the decision-making and give them the power and financial means to change the lives of the more underprivileged in their communities.
The management committees we met (made up of older people from each local community) had been allocated a budget, which they can loan to other older people. The committees were empowered through micro-financing training and the people who received the loans now have the means to help their families who have been affected by HIV and AIDS.
Empowering and energising older people
In essence the strength of these programmes is their ability to empower and energise older people to be part of the solution to their problems. We saw how such a simple idea as using a loan to buy a cow could make such a difference financially and emotionally, especially in households where grandma is supporting her own mother and three orphaned children under five.
It was obvious as an outsider that the team running the programmes were full of enthusiasm and competency. I have nothing but admiration for the way in which their desire to help alleviate both emotional trauma and economic hardship for older people was unstinting.
Older people as decision-makers and problem solvers
The same was true for those local older people who made up the committees. Again, they showed they had collective wisdom in abundance with great foresight and understanding of how help provided by one's peers can really affect change within communities.
As well as the financial support, the programmes promote and support community involvement and build older people's self-esteem. Most importantly they ensure people are at the centre of solving problems and decision-making in their own communities.
Finally, I was impressed by how much joy and pleasure the programmes gave the older people who were part of the programmes. We couldn't fail to be humbled by those we met and the richness of the welcome we received.
I am grateful to have seen at first hand such inspiring and hopefully long lasting programmes at work through which local people are at the heart of changing their own lives and communities.