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Restoring dignity for older persons - Interview with Adonis Faifi, Programme Officer, Help Age
Upenyu Makoni Muchemwa, Kubatana.net
March 15, 2012

Read Inside/Out with Adonis Faifi

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Adonis FaifiCan you tell me the history of Help Age in Zimbabwe?
Help Age Zimbabwe is a charity organisation that was formed in 1989. It works with, and for older persons throughout Zimbabwe. When we say older person we are talking about men and women who are 60 years and above.

What areas do you work in?
We are into quite a number of areas. We are in food security, health, social protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, emergencies and advocacy. When I talk of food security, our intention as Help Age Zimbabwe is to restore or give dignity back to older persons. For example we give seeds with the intention that older persons should be able to produce their own food. We also give farming implements and carry out trainings in new technologies in farming. Listen

With regard to health, you know the definition of older person here in Zimbabwe we use sixty years and above, and you know ageing comes with certain conditions or ailments. Where we can we give medications. We assist people to access medical attention from various sources. We advocate on issues that come with age such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Related to health is HIV/AIDS. While Zimbabwe is celebrating that the prevalence is on a downward trend, the impact of caring for orphans and vulnerable children on older persons is actually increasing. We carry out awareness so that older persons know what it is we are talking about when we say HIV or AIDS, how it can be prevented, how it is spread. You find that 60% of orphans and vulnerable children are under the car of older persons. Some might be HIV infected so they need to know how to care for them. We assist in the care by paying school fees and providing education support. Listen

Under water sanitation and hygiene, we provide water by drilling new boreholes in communities where we work with older person. We also rehabilitate existing boreholes. We run health and hygiene awareness campaigns. We also construct toilets within homesteads and provide facilities for them to wash their hands.

In 2000, during the land resettlement programme we had older persons who were working on farms and during that process a number of people lost employment. Even though there are now new players in the farming sector, by virtue of their age, older persons can no longer be employed. Quite a number of them have remained vulnerable. So we came up with some programmes where we built some housing units for them and their families. We started some irrigation schemes so that they could sustain themselves and we put up hygiene structures such as boreholes and toilets.

Lastly, we advocate for the needs and rights of older persons. In Zimbabwe older persons are one of the most vulnerable groups. But unlike the others they are not covered by legislation. We have a bill that was put in place in 2002 and we are engaging government in having it put before parliament.

With regard to the Bill you are advocating with government, what have you seen is lacking in the policy environment?
Since 2002 up to now is that it is still a Bill. In my view, what is lacking is possibly commitment from government to come up with this legislation. Recently I was happy as we were advised that it had passed through Cabinet, now it's sitting in Parliament about to be debated. When we prepared this Bill we had a lot of issues that we wanted covered. What is key was the introduction of a universal pension for older persons. This would cover all these issues of older persons. Be it food security, or health or HIV/AIDS. They would receive something that would be able to assist them. Listen

As Programmes Manager, what would you say have been some of Help Age's success stories?
I'll talk about the International Day. Initially we were talking about the issues that affect older persons to the key stakeholders. For the past three or four years we developed a new campaign called 'ADA - Age Demands Action'. This is where the older persons themselves come up with the issues affecting them and they will present these issue to key ministries. For example the Department of Labour and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Ministry of Justice and local authorities. They would present those issues with the view of getting some response. I am happy to say when we invited these ministries; the key persons would come to such fora. You know having a platform where you able to bring the older persons and decision makers together was a key success. Where we operate from in the grass roots, let me speak specifically of Zvishavane, we have what we call OPC or Older Persons Committees. We implement all the programmes that we do through the OPCs, from the selection of the beneficiaries to the verification. So they are able to pick the most vulnerable in their communities. We took this further to forming what is called 'Champions in Ageing' people who have been trained in ageing issues so that they are able to advocate and speak with one voice on behalf of older persons.

Help Age International recently won the Hilton Humanitarian Award. How does this affect you as Help Age Zimbabwe and how important is this to your organisation?
As members of the Help Age network this is a great honour. It is recognition of the work that the various Help Age's have been doing.

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