KINGSTON — As the economy continues to fight off the effects of the global crisis, senior citizens find it more difficult to support their basic needs, including acquiring skill, accessing proper health care, becoming socially involved and seeking counselling, which usually result in them becoming victims of their loneliness.
However, the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC) has remained steadfast in seeking to address these challenges, through the implementation of a number of initiatives geared to facilitating improvements in their lives.
For example, the Council has stepped up efforts to promote healthy lifestyles for seniors, mainly through a feeding programme it has been offering in the Corporate Area, but which it plans to extended to other parishes with the help of the churches.
"We have roughly 20 centres at present, with about 420 members, and there are others which are operated by churches, islandwide. The seniors come in, in the days, and we ensure that they get a nutritious meal and they can share with their peers,” says Executive Director of the Council, Beverly Hall-Taylor.
She credits churches such as the Anglicans, Adventists, Baptists, Church of God of Prophecy and the New Testament Church, with playing an integral role in assisting with feeding programmes. Feeding programme centres in the Corporate Area are located at the St Richard's Church, the Hagley Park Health Centre, the Denham Town Golden Age Home, the George Abraham Home and the East Queen Street Baptist.
Seniors also benefit from the Council’s Day Activity Centre, which assists persons who are financially challenged in seeking alternative care for their loved ones. The centres are located in Buff Bay and Hope Bay, Portland, the Stella Morris Church, Kingston and the St. Jago Park Anglican Church in St. Catherine, and opens between 10 am and 3 pm, daily.
"They are taught skills in art and craft and culinary art. They are taught how to do self help care, how to take care of their body; their nails, their feet, (taking) their medication and their nutrition,” she explains.
In the meantime, Mrs. Hall-Taylor adds that an introductory computer class has also been made available in each parish, in partnership with the Jamaica Library Service (JLS).
"I am so happy that the Jamaica Library service has partnered with us, and now every parish conducts computer classes for our seniors. They love to deal with the internet, because they want to communicate with their loved ones, near and far," she says.
Mrs. Hall-Taylor lists another initiative as the Continued Learning Programme, a partnership with the YWCA which should provide opportunities for seniors seeking a second chance in terms of their education.
"We are going to be looking at seniors who want to learn more in terms of English Language, General Knowledge and Mathematics," she says.
She notes that counselling is also provided for seniors’ islandwide, to help overcome loneliness and boredom, as well as assist in health related matters, such as nutrition. This is with the assistance of social workers, registered nurses and nurse aids attached to the Council, who visit the homes of seniors and conduct sessions, free of cost.
Another initiative looks at advancing health, for which the Ministry of Health has been playing a crucial role, in terms of assisting with health related activities.
"We have a lot of health seminars, and there are the health clinics that parishes put on, and health officers in the communities. We also have the Jamaica Drug for the Elderly Programme (JADEP), and the National Health Fund (NHF). What we do is make our seniors know about the programmes that are available and are related to their health benefits," she states.
But, probably most initiative of all has been the promotion of an enabling environment for social development, based on the Madrid Plan of Action.
"We have to look at the environment; if it is conducive to older persons," she notes, alluding to the conference planned for October 25 at the Medallion Hall Hotel in Kingston, which will focus on the Madrid Plan of Action.
The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly in 2002, is a response to the opportunities and challenges of population ageing in the twenty-first century, and seeks to promote the development of a society for all ages. The plan commits governments to actions, at all levels, on three priority directions: older persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age; and ensuring, enabling and supportive environments.
"This is where we are going to be looking at housing. We will be inviting housing developers, real estate people, to see how seniors can benefit from housing areas, such as seniors villages, or some area where the they can be comfortable with their peers, or where they can have a more acceptable place of residence,” she says.
Special emphasis will be also placed on the construction of houses with seniors in mind, she says.
"We are suggesting that when they are doing their housing development, they should have an area earmarked for the occupancy of seniors," she says.
Mrs. Hall- Taylor states that another initiative currently being examined is the rights of older persons at the international level, adding that draft legislation which speaks to these rights being discussed. .
A referral service is also provided, so persons can visit or call the Council for assistance at anytime. The toll free lines provided are: 1-888-seniors, or 1-888-7364677. Persons can report any senior that is in need, to share thoughts and ideas, or to acquire information on any of the available programmes.
"What we do in the referral service is try to find the best suited agencies, to alleviate the needs of those who have applied for assistance, whether they are government or non-government agencies,” she discloses.
Other programmes offered by the Council include: a bus pass service; a homeless nursing aid project; backyard gardening; and a handicraft project.
She says the Council aims to do much more for the elderly, but admitted that there are budgetary constraints. The Council falls under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and Minister of State in that Ministry, Hon Andrew Gallimore, has been closely involved with the Council and its initiatives since 2007. However, financing is made available by the Ministry of Finance and has also been affected by the budgetary constraints in the Ministry.
She says, however, that the Council is grateful for additional support from the Church, the Jamaica Library Service, the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), the Salvation Army, Nestle, GraceKennedy, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), Food for the Poor, and the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ).
By Jeneva Gordon, JIS Reporter