Sunday, February 2, 2014

Of the Elderly and HIV and AIDS

Lucius Dimiano of Kafupa Village in Chigumula township may be 68-years-old, but he’s nowhere near retirement.

Still working three jobs to support six grandchildren orphaned by HIV and Aids, Dimiano works as a guard from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. at a nearby church, thereafter goes to the garden to get maize for his family, weaves baskets to sell at the market and, then, does it all over again.

“I cannot sleep, so it’s hard,” Dimiano says. “As a night guard, I need to always be awake because sometimes there are thieves rooming in the dark.

“When I knock off in the morning I go to the garden, when I knock off in the garden I eat and then I start making baskets so I can make more money, but it’s still not enough to care for all six grandchildren.”

While Dimiano said he is “not happy to still be working as a guard because (I am) very old,” he added that, because he is no longer as strong as he used to be, there is nothing else he can do apart from guarding.

“If I still had children that could help me, I could have just stayed home, but there is no one to help me. I’m only working because of my grandchildren,” he says.

Mrs. Kandikole, 55, has also lost children to HIV and AIDS; her oldest daughter passed away in 2005 orphaning one grandchild and her second-oldest daughter passed away in 2010 orphaning three grandchildren.

“I’m the one who’s left looking out for them,” she said. “And not only those four; I have other grandchildren at my home who have only a mother but not a father.

“It’s very difficult for me to look after these children because I’m very old. I’m not working,” she continued. “Things are very expensive here in Malawi. Food is very expensive. I cannot manage to buy clothes for them. It is very difficult for me to take them to the hospital. To get good medicine, one needs to pay money at private hospitals, but I can’t manage to do all those things.”

Kandikole said she had been working at a nursery school, but had to quit when her daughters died because “(my) grandchildren were alone, so (I) had to look after these children all by (myself).”

She said her husband, 57, is still working as a telephone operator but “he makes very little money.”

“I don’t think he will be able to continue working much longer because he is now 57-years-old and his body is very weak. He is very sick,” she said, revealing that they both suffer from chronic bouts of malaria. “Before, we could manage to do all those things, but not now.”

Without the proper means or support, Kandikole said she “couldn’t manage to send (her) grandchildren to school” because “when you want to send a child to school these days, even a government school, you need to buy a uniform, pencils, exercise books and the child needs to eat porridge.

She said her grandchildren “were just staying at home” until they were accepted at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Limbe, a free primary and secondary school in Malawi providing education and daily meals to orphans.

“If we did not have Jacaranda, these children would just be doing nothing at home,” said Kandikole. “They go to school without taking anything. If Jacaranda didn’t provide porridge I don’t know what we could do.

“I couldn’t think of this before,” she continued. “Before, I thought my children would go to school up to college and help their children by themselves. But their deaths brought everything down.”

The late Nelley Daniel M’maligeni of Che Mboma village suffered in the same way.

Deaf and blind, M’maligeni struggled to care for herself yet alone her grandson, Vincent, who was orphaned by HIV and AIDS. Before this story came to print, M’maligeni passed away at the age of 105 and Vincent lost yet another primary caretaker.

According to M’maligeni’s daughter-in-law, M’maligeni and Vincent had been sleeping in a small hut.

M’maligeni’s daughter-in-law said her family was able to give extra food to M’maligeni and Vincent once-a-week, but “sometimes it (was) hard because there (was) not enough money. Sometimes M’maligeni (could) not eat.

“Sometimes we just (bought) panado, because panado is cheap,” she said.

When asked if there can be greater relief for grandparents struggling to care for themselves and their orphaned grandchildren than over-the-counter pain medication, Helen Chasowa, Elderly People’s Association of Malawi executive director, said lack of proper policies has left Malawi’s ageing citizens at the mercy of unknown devices.

“There is not much being done for elderly people in Malawi. Apart from occasional donations of blankets, flour, and clothes, there is no policy or legislation compelling government to provide social care to these people.

“In addition, our senior citizens are accused of practicing witchcraft and forced to drink cupfuls of pepper. Overall, the elderly are neglected,” Chasowa says.

But Dominic Misomali, Blantyre District Social Welfare officer, says stranded elderly and young people at district level are assisted by his office, observing, however, that there is need for community members to hold hands and contribute resources in order to prevent the young and old spilling into the district’s Central Business District. Currently, cities such as Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu are flooded with the old and young out to look for alms.

When not in town, Malawi’s vulnerable population of the young and aged out stealing to meet their daily basic needs, according to a National Statistical Office report released seven years ago. The report is dubbed ‘Crimes of Need’, and chronicles the items people often steal, not out of habit but, need to get their daily bread.

It said over half of the criminal needs committed in rural areas are due to poverty.

The situation is billed to change for the better, however, following non-state actors’ interest in meeting needs of the elderly. Reen Kachere, former Minister responsible for the Elderly and People with Disabilities (who is now minister responsible for People with Disabilities following the creation of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare headed by Anita Kalinde) runs the Neno Shelter for the Aged.

The shelter, run by the Association for Progressive Women (APW) she founded before joining politics, provides shelter and nutrition supplements to elderly people who have no other means of survival.

“The shelter has provided recourse to people who, otherwise, are left to resign to fate. Since establishment of the shelter, we have seen mortality among the elderly members decline. In fact, we just lost one of the people who was driving the grader that constructed Mwanza road some two years ago, meaning that the elderly are history,” Noel Msiska, project officer for the shelter, says.

Government also seems to have taken a step forward. For example, Finance Minister Ken Lipenga says that government has put in place safety net programmes that target both the elderly and other vulnerable people in the 2012/13 National Budget.

“These programmes are aimed at assisting the poorest in our communities to cope with life. During the 2012/13 fiscal year, however, the programmes will be scaled up to capture those that may have fallen below the poverty line due to devaluation.

“A total of K27.5 billion has been provided for four programmes mainly the Intensive Public Works Programme, the School Feeding Programme targeted towards 980,000 pupils in primary schools, the Schools Bursaries Programme targeting 16,480 needy students, and the Social Cash Transfer Programme which will reach over 30,000 households across the country,” says Lipenga.

The World Bank has been contributing towards safety net programmes through the Malawi Social Action Fund and the Irrigation, Rural Livelihoods and Agriculture Development Programmes (IRLAD). Aimed at creating more community assets and building community resilience to help cushion the rural poor, the programme will this year be scaled up from the original 11 districts to all the 28 Districts to benefit about 250,000 smallholder households.

Kalinde, who engaged on a familiarization tour of institutions under her ministry, said early June she would work day and night to lessen the plight of vulnerable children and adults. She says government will also look into the prospect of making safety nets all-encompassing in order to reach out to many people.

But, until this year’s National Budget is passed come June 31, Malawians struggling to care for their orphaned grandchildren will continue to look toward an uncertain future for a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of their families, with no choice but to hope that their grandchildren will one day care for them in return.

“The only ones who can decide if I stop working are my grandchildren,” Dimiano said. “Maybe they will see that we are very old and cannot work anymore and they will help us. But maybe they will finish school and go away.

“At the moment, I do not know.”

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