Wednesday, 1 October 2008

We're all getting older

We're all getting older - (it's true even Georgina is no longer 20 and a half!). I've been interpretting today for a fascinating series of presentations and insights on the challenge of an ageing population, ending with a message from Desmond Tutu saying "Today we need a culture that encourages us to share and learn from each other," and calling on the generations to listen to one another.
Today is the UN's International Day of Older People and the ecumenical centre was host to an event called "Cultures and Religions for all Ages".
What I found particularly heartening about the event was the cooperation between the local city of Geneva and the different international organisations. It was also good to have such a broad mix of people from faith-based and values-based local and international organisations talking about the key role of culture and religion in health care generally and in provision for older people in particular. There was a great mix of passion, politics, faith and knowledge buzzing in the meeting hall.
Lia Wolters
spoke movingly of her 14 years as a chaplain in old people's homes in the Netherlands saying that in her culture being "active" and "useful" were values that were prized and that it was sometimes difficult for the elderly infirm to find meaning and reevaluate such firmly held values when they no longer felt "useful". From India we heard of a Christian medical school's commitment to putting primary health care for the over 60s in place, both in the rural villages around Bangalore and in the city itself.
It was also underlined that worldwide the vast majority of elderly people are care-givers - supporting and caring for spouses or grandchildren.
I ended my time in the interpretation booth thinking that it is an enormous privilege to be alive today. 200 years ago Europeans had a life expectancy of around 35, next time I complain about getting older I'll try to make myself remember what the alternative is.