Fighting for rights and bringing generations together in Gaza
To many people, the Middle East is fascinating and terrifying in equal measures.
The issues surrounding the region are so complex and controversial; you tend to forget it is a real place, full of real people struggling to go about their daily lives.
Having travelled to the Middle East many times from a young age and having family there, I was always interested in the fact that HelpAge worked in Gaza and the West Bank.
Until recently however, I didn't know much about it. Now, however I have the chance to go out and support our work in Gaza and see it in action.
An amazing opportunity and exciting times ahead
My immediate reaction was mixed: Is it safe? Can I cope with seeing so much tension, conflict and poverty? Can I be objective? But I also felt that this is an amazing opportunity and something I've wanted to do for a long time.
The timing is particularly exciting for us at HelpAge, as there is so much going on over the next month, including our Age Demands Action (ADA) campaign. This is when older people all over the world come together and speak out about their concerns. When they take to the streets and demonstrate, or meet with their ministers, prime ministers and president to demand their rights.
For ADA this year in Gaza, there will be an exhibition on older people's rights and a march through Gaza's main street. Then our ADA delegation will meet government officials to talk about their access to health care and age-friendly spaces.
Emotional and physical trauma
As you might imagine, being an older person in Gaza is full of challenges. Over 40% of people over 65 live below the poverty line of $1.00 a day. If you are 60 or over, all you'll have known and can remember is conflict.
Much is said of the angry and unemployed youth in the Middle East, but nothing is mentioned of those who have spent their whole lives under siege. As a result, many older people suffer from terrible emotional trauma. Part of our work is taking older people on trips, like days out to the beach. Just a small respite from their daily lives can make a world of difference.
Other than psychological damage, life in Gaza takes a huge toll on older people's health. 65% of people over 60 in the occupied territories suffer from one or more chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. HelpAge has improved older people's lives by providing them with wheelchairs, walking sticks and eye glasses, as well as offering diabetes testing kits and physiotherapy sessions.
Face to Faith
In my planned short trip I will see our programmes and our campaigns in action, which I'm really excited about. That's not all though! On 29 September, HelpAge will be taking part in a global event in partnership with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation called Face to Faith. The idea is to bring people together to learn and talk about their faith, if they have one, and how it affects their lives.
All over the world, schools will be taking part and children and teachers will listen to spokespeople and asks questions. This year the focus is on intergenerational relationships, which is why we are involved. One of our three spokespeople will be in Gaza, beamed around the world. And I will be there to witness the whole thing, taking photos, tweeting and listening all simultaneously!
Sharing knowledge and experience with younger generations
Our spokesman in Gaza is a great example of how older people contribute so much and should be valued more. Mr. Abed Shehada is 64 and a member of the Arab Union Writers. He also writes poetry himself. He has supported HelpAge projects in Al Shatee camp and has worked on plays about the issues older people face to raise awareness in schools.
I can't wait to hear the knowledge and experience he'll have to offer the school kids who will be listening all over the world. It's a great project and I hope that everyone involved will get an insight into the challenges and discrimination older people face. Maybe he'll even read us a few poems!
Sign the Age Demands Action petition and stand up for older people's rights.