Untold stories: Mulugeta Bekele, Ethiopia

Mulugeta Bekele, Ethiopia
I live in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. It used to be a rural area but with the passage of time we have witnessed development, and now you can see big roads and buildings. I live a retired life with my wife. I am president of Addis Ababa's older people’s association and usually busy in these activities. I have a small pension; my children also support me.       
 
I used to be a salesman for a beer company - I spent 21 years of my life there. Later for 14 years, I worked in Addis Ababa Court house.    

How did you get involved in campaigning for older people's rights?  

In 2004 I participated in a training which focused on the needs and rights of older people. That was an eye-opening session for me. I decided that I will initiate something to raise the voice for the rights of older people.    
 
I discussed this with my friends and we formed an older people's association. When we started doing some activities, we came to know different realities, and soon found out there was a lot to be done. More people were getting involved, and in a very short time, nine more associations were formed in different areas.     

Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your age?  

I have a few experiences. I remember when we formed the older people's association and we used to visit different offices for advocacy. People used to say, "older people cannot do anything, they are just a burden - we have to focus on the younger generation". This was heart-breaking for us. We were not expecting this. We were of the view that older people do have experience, and this can be utilised in the development and betterment of society.   

Tell us about your proudest moments as a campaigner   

One of our major asks was that older people should be included in a productive safety net programme. I was very happy when it was decided that older people will be included in these programmes.      
 
During our Age Demands Action (ADA) campaign, we used to meet policy makers and ask for the construction of older people centers. They promised us that, and I am happy to share that construction has already started.    
 
Older people used to stand and wait in long queues to get their pension. We met with the policy makers and highlighted this issue. Soon after, they automated the system and now older people are getting the pension straight into their bank accounts. They don't have to stand and wait in long queues any more.  

What are you campaigning for right now, and how are you doing it?  

The major issues for older people are lack of income security and access to good health care. We are campaigning for this. We want older people to not have financial worries and to have access to good health services. We are meeting policy makers, writing letters to different officials and participating at different forums.   

What effect has campaigning had on you as an older person?   

I must say my life has changed since I have started campaigning for rights of older people. I feel myself a very lucky person to be talking about older people’s rights. I have gained confidence. In the beginning we were reluctant to talk to policy makers but with the passage of time we gained confidence and now we can easily highlight all our issues with the high-level officials.    
 
The successes also motivated us. Now we campaign more actively because we know that if we are committed to the cause and continue our struggle, we can make an age-friendly world.  

What needs to be done to improve the situation further?  

There are health facilities but there is shortage of medicines for older people. There are some specific diseases for which older people want medicines but usually they cannot find them at these facilities - due to which they get depressed.   
 
Due to poverty many older people still do not have proper shelter. The government need to address this issue. Older people also want an age-friendly transport system.  

Do you have a message for other older people around the world?  

We should work together for the international convention on the rights of older people.
 
With thanks to HelpAge Ethiopia office.
 
Read more stories from older campaigners. 

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