Hellen Hove runs her own centre in Zimbabwe where older people engage in different projects to make a living.

Untold stories: Hellen Hove, Zimbabwe

I am a retired nurse and a widow, but still own and manage a 30-hectare farm in Mberengwa in central Zimbabwe. I live in the house with my daughter and 11-year-old grandson, who has a disability, and we employ six workers who live on the other side of the farm.  

What made you want to get involved?

In January 2011, three older women were baptised at the local Lutheran church. I volunteered to do bible studies with them and to nurture them in the ways of the Lord. I then discovered there is a need for social support for these older women. I took the matter to the Bishop who encouraged me to have conversations with more older women.
I discussed establishing an organisation where older women use the talents they have to make a living. In May 2011, using my own funding, I managed to acquire some of the resources we needed to start projects. More than 20 older women engaged in different projects to make a living.
I gave one hectare of my farm to older people for gardening purposes. Now we are campaigning for a borehole at the centre as they want to start an irrigation project, but there is a lack of water.

Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your age?

I have never faced discrimination. But other older women in Mberengwa who are unable to take care of themselves face discrimination from society and their families. Their children accuse them of witchcraft and abandon them. They are left with no one to look after them. Older women experience more discrimination because society assumes that they are weak compared to men.

Tell me about your proudest moments as a campaigner

One of my proudest moments is when I officially opened the Hellen Hove Centre, where older people engage in different projects to make a living and socialise with each other.

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

Campaigning has changed the lives of some older women because they no longer rely on support from others. Since 2011, new members have been joining and no one has ever dropped. Every year I take the older women to the Harare Agricultural Show as a way to encourage them. This year, we featured on pictures with the country’s vice president and he encouraged us to keep on doing our projects.
Older women in Mberengwa feel empowered now. Some of them are sending their grandchildren to school with the income that they get from the projects. Others who were abandoned by their children now have a new family who understand them better.

How are things improving for older people in your country?

Nothing has changed on the rights of older people. There is no social support for those who are unable to take care of themselves. Older people are not being recognised in the community. We are listened to, but the real issue is there is no response from decision-makers.

What needs to be done to improve the situation further?

There must be a committee in every area that takes care of older people, and it must include older people. The names of every older person in the area should be noted so that no one is left behind when there is support available.

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

If you are in good health, use your hands to make a living. Don’t wait for others to help you. You should join social clubs so you can interact with other older people.

With thanks to HelpAge global network member Centre for Community Development Solutions

Read more stories from older campaigners.