While the dramatic increase in life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa is good news, it poses a variety of new challenges for families and communities. According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, life expectancy in the region has risen by 20 years since 1960, guaranteeing a growing elderly population requiring unique care that may not be readily available.
Traditionally, the responsibility of elder care has fallen to the family-unit, and more specifically, females. But with growing educational and employment opportunities for women, there are fewer care providers in the home to provide for aging family members. Or conversely, a sense of responsibility and obligation to aging family members can lead younger generations to sacrifice professional and educational advancement.
An aging population also requires specialized care for issues such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and injury prevention and treatment. According to the WHO,
“family members who provide long-term care lack the resources to give better care and are faced with a choice between neglecting their work, training or other economic activities or neglecting their dependent older relative.”
But Catholic Sisters from ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) and Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) programs are stepping in where there are shortfalls in caring for the elderly.
SLDI, ASEC’s largest program, provides leadership and technology training for Sisters in Africa. Through SLDI, sisters gain the practical skills and confidence to build strong networks and take up leadership roles in their congregations and communities
Many SLDI alumnae go on to earn undergraduate and graduate level education through ASEC’s HESA program, which partners Catholic women religious in Africa with higher education institutions in Africa and online in the USA. Upon completion of their degree, HESA alumnae return to their communities to serve as congregational and community leaders.
In Lesotho, graduates of both of these programs are creating ways to support and care for an aging local population while easing the burden on families. Sr. Theresia Ntsoaki Noko, SCO, has spent many of her 20+ years as a sister of Charity of Ottawa serving at the Saint Marguerite D’Youville Old Age Home.
While she had the compassion and love to serve the elderly residents of the home, she realized she initially lacked the office and management skills to effectively lead the home.
Through SLDI, Sr. Theresia learned management and computer skills that helped improve the administration of the Home, including creating a constitution. She also learned grant writing skills that enabled her to secure funds for income-generating projects. She has helped the SCOs to open four schools, a bakery, a medical clinic and a nursing school, all of which integrate with the mission of the Old Age Home.
Sr. Albertina Nkunyane, HS, is a HESA student studying at the National University of Lesotho. As part of her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work program, Sr. Albertina completed her fieldwork experience at the Reitumetse Old Age Home this year. “Reitumetse” is a Lesotho name which means “we are happy,” and Sr. Albertina certainly helped the home’s residents live up to that motto.
During her practical experience time at the home, Sr. Albertina engaged the residents in a variety of recreational activities like knitting, walking, singing and playing instruments. She also conducted counseling and occupational therapy sessions with patients.
Of the experience, she says:
“I have been affirmed in my passion for social work and I know, for sure, that I have made a good choice of my course of study in preparation for an effective interaction with my people.”
Also in Lesotho, Sr. Lucia Mothe, HFB, a sister of the Holy Family of Bordeaux, was at first intimidated to work with the elderly due to her lack of knowledge and skills. But as an alumna of SLDI, Sr. Lucia was able to connect with other sisters in the program and realize the vision and mission of her community and the skills needed to care for the sisters as they age.
“I started to ask for help for those who were already in field of taking care of the elderly,” said Sr. Lucia after her completion of the program. “I started having a deeper compassion towards the elderly because of the support I got [through SLDI].”
Graduates of ASEC’s programs are also impacting the lives of the elderly in other countries across Africa, like Uganda.
Sr. Janet Namiiro, LSOSF, is a social worker at the Nkokonjeru Providence Cheshire Home, Uganda, which takes care of elderly persons who are poor/sick, along with children with different disabilities, orphans and needy children. As a graduate of the SLDI program, Sr. Janet gained skills in proposal writing and project management that aid in sustaining and improving the Home.
One of Sr. Janet’s successful grant applications resulted in funding from the Conrad Hilton Fund for Sisters for banana seedlings, maize seeds, cassava stems, farm inputs, clearing land and labor.
The farming project, which is both successful and sustainable, has increased food production and quality of diet for the residents, reduced feeding expenses and generated income for the home, and created employment opportunity for locals.
In Kampala, Uganda, three ASEC program alumnae have used their training and education at Mapeera Bakateyamba Home for the Elderly and Sick, which is run by the Good Samaritan Sisters. The Home’s mission is to be the leading provider for hope, help and friendly services to the elderly, poor, destitute, disabled and neglected people of God without discrimination, following the example of the Good Samaritan.
Sr. Lawerence Nakiwu Nakyeyune Regina, GSS (Sr. Regina), studied project management in ASEC's SLDI program and is the Administrator of Mapeera Home.
Sr. Elizabeth Namagama, GSS (Sr. Betty), another SLDI alumna, studied administration and runs the St. Francis Clinic, which is part of the Home’s compound and serves residents of the Home as well as the local community.
Sr. Josephine Lwandage, GSS, a HESA alumna who studied nursing, previously served at the Home and now works at a nearby orphanage.
Mapeera Home currently houses 65 residents, including a ward for elderly and infirm priests. Other patients are referred by family members or concerned members of the community. The sisters then travel to the patients’ homes to inspect their living conditions. If a patient meets criteria for admission, they come to live at the home. Many of the Good Samaritan Sisters live at the Home with the patients so as to care for them around-the-clock.
The sisters also have a small nearby farm to help Mapeera Home to be self-sustaining. The crops from the farm generate income and support the needs of the home and its residents.
Throughout Africa, a growing elderly population is being supported by Catholic sisters. Alumna of ASEC’s SLDI and HESA programs are taking their leadership, management, writing and technology skills to serve some of the most vulnerable members of their communities, and in turn, relieving families of some of the responsibility of caring for the aging.