Fransis Kupang: Loss of a dear friend and a champion of older people's rights
On 23 June, we lost one of our dearest friends, Fransis Kupang, the Executive Director of COSE in the Philippines. He was an inspirational leader and a tireless, passionate, expert and hugely effective advocate for the rights of older people.
Fransiskus Kupang was born in humble origins on the volcanic island of Lembata in Eastern Indonesia on 19 January 1969.
His family lived in Lamalera, a village known for its whaling tradition and highly prized ikat weavings. Fransis was educated on the island of Flores through a Catholic education system at San Domingo Seminary.
Supporter of the poor and disadvantaged
Fransis was always full of life. Any initiative to improve the lives of the poor or disadvantaged, found in him an enthusiastic supporter. As a boy, he wanted to help the poor and became active in youth groups.
In 1993, at 24, he was sent to continue theological study to become a priest at Mary Hill Theological College (CICM) in the Philippines. There, he was strongly influenced by liberation theology. This argued that the Church had to work for and with the poor and overcome conditions that breed inequality and unfairness in the world. Later, Fransis left the seminary to become active in the social movements of the Philippines and the region.
He went onto study Community Development at the University of the Philippines, graduating in 2012. In 1997, inspired by his personal mission and their work, he joined the NGO and HelpAge network member, the Coalition of Services for the Elderly (COSE). He initially led the Community Organising team for three years before becoming Director in 2009.
Typhoon Haiyan response
He revitalised and transformed COSE from a small local organisation into one that is very relevant to the country he came to call home. COSE is now a leading organisation that is best known for its community work, strong advocacy campaigns, disaster response and preparedness.
In October 2013, COSE volunteers were among the first to respond to the devastation left by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Fransis's leadership immediately shone. He put in place a rapid and very professional emergency response and recovery programme on the ground.
His flair for communicating the situation facing the older survivors of the disaster with eloquence and urgency across our global network led directly to funds being raised in significant quantity around the world for the COSE and HelpAge joint response.
A charismatic personality and talented orator, Fransis always brought a strong sense of reality and reflection to all HelpAge events; ensuring that the perspective of older people was paramount. He had an infectious sense of humour and a great friend and support to his COSE team and many others across the network.
Giving millions of older people a voice
Fransis was a regular presence in HelpAge regional conferences from 2005 and joined many of our regional events. He also represented our global network at the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing at the United Nations in New York. He also contributed several blogs on COSE's work in the Philippines to the HelpAge website.
Over the years, COSE gave 6 million older people in the Philippines a voice in national legal processes, driving through significant laws and policies for the benefit of senior citizens. The last message I sent directly to Fransis was to wish him well at an upcoming meeting of Heads of State of the ten ASEAN countries this past 26-28 April in Kuala Lumpur.
At one point in that summit the Heads of State requested to have a short meeting with ten civil society representatives, one from each country. The government of the Philippines asked COSE to represent their country.
As it turned out, a passport issue prevented him from taking up the invitation himself, and a colleague went on his behalf. But the recognition was wonderful, although impossible to comprehend that this honour was bestowed so near to the end of his life on the organisation he loved so much.
Keeping his legacy alive
Fransis was diagnosed with late stage gastro-esophageal cancer on 10 June. He decided to undertake palliative treatment, but suffered organ complications and died, far too soon, at St Luke's Medical Center in the Philippines, aged just 46. He is survived by his wife Jenny and their four children, Ina Lucy, Ina Rensa, Lodovic Ednyuhardi and Mathew Henri.
COSE plan to allow his many friends and admirers the chance to contribute to a fund that will be set up for his family. You can leave a message on this Facebook page.
As for HelpAge International, we will be setting up an annual prize in the name of Fransis Kupang, to be awarded on 23 June each year, to a man or woman who has made an exceptional contribution to advancing the rights of older people.
Rest in peace Fransis, and thank you! We are proud to have known you.