By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, (http://rcsocialjusticett.org) & Director, CREDI
Today, Sunday, is the International Day of Older Persons. The theme this year is: Stepping into the Future: Tapping the Talents, Contributions and Participation of Older Persons in Society. It is about “enabling and expanding the contributions of older people in their families, communities and societies at large. It focuses on the pathways that support full and effective participation in old age, in accordance with old persons’ basic rights, needs and preferences” (UN).
A report by the World Health Organisation in 2015 stated that “With advances in medicine helping more people to live longer lives, the number of people over the age of 60 is expected to double by 2050 and will require radical societal change – rising from 900 million in 2015 to 2 billion by 2050…governments must ensure policies that enable older people to continue participating in society and that avoid reinforcing the inequities that often underpin poor health in older age.
“The Report rejects the stereotype of older people as frail and dependent and says the many contributions that older people make are often overlooked, while the demands that population ageing will place on society are frequently overemphasised or exaggerated… older populations in general are very diverse and make multiple contributions to families, communities and society more broadly.”
Pope Francis continues to denounce today’s “throwaway culture” that discards anyone who is considered to be unproductive. In 2015 he said: “Benedict XVI, visiting a home for the elderly, used clear and prophetic words, saying in this way: ‘The quality of a society, I mean of a civilization, is also judged by how it treats elderly people and by the place it gives them in community life’ (Nov 12, 2012)… Is there room for the elderly? This civilization will move forward if it knows how to respect wisdom, the wisdom of the elderly.”
In October 2016, he said: “The Church regards the elderly with affection, gratitude, and high esteem. They are an essential part of the Christian community and of society: in particular they represent the roots and the memory of a people. You are an important presence, because your experience is a precious treasure, which is essential if we would look to the future with hope and responsibility. Your maturity and wisdom, accumulated over the years, can help younger people in search of their own way, supporting them on the path of growth and openness to the future…Not a few elderly people who generously spend their time and the talents that God has bestowed upon them by helping and supporting others… And what about their role in the family? How many grandparents care for grandchildren, simply by passing on to children the experience of life, the spiritual and cultural values of a community and a people…
“There is still much that institutions and social structures can do to help older people to make the most of their abilities, to facilitate their active participation, particularly to ensure that their personal dignity is always respected and appreciated. To do this we must counter the harmful throw-away culture that marginalises the elderly, considering them unproductive. Those responsible for the public weal, cultural, educational and religious leaders, as well as all people of good will, are called upon to commit to building a more and more welcoming and inclusive society. It is also important to promote the bond between generations.”
Are we tapping into the talents of our elderly? I’ll give you one example. For years there has been talk of amending legislation to shorten the ten-year period in which retired judges are debarred from practising law after they leave the bench, to a more reasonable time of between three and five years, and to increase the retirement age of judges from 65 to 70. The Law Association approves of such a change. Our administration of justice could do with their expertise, and yet we are failing to effect changes that will utilise their talents.
According to T&T’s Division of Ageing, “the elderly population of Trinidad and Tobago stands at 12 per cent or 156,000 persons over the age of 60 years (CSO, 2010). According to the UN World Population Prospects (2008), the percentage of persons in T&T aged 60 years and over is projected to be 17.7 per cent in 2025 and expected to grow to 30.1 per cent in 2050.”
I urge parishes to identify the expertise of older persons in your midst and make room for them. Tap into their talents so that together we can build the common good.