The Needs of the Elderly are Complex
YOU can provide hope for the elderly and others in need this Christmas.
Around the world, the problems facing elderly people are complex and often daunting. The grief of losing loved ones and having fewer social interactions contribute to a painful loneliness that can be overwhelming to a senior citizen. Compounded by declining physical or mental capacities, aging can bring on new problems that are difficult to deal with — especially for those on a reduced or non-existent income.
The complexities of these problems are especially challenging in countries with little to no governmental support for elders. In some countries, legal structures pass inheritances away from surviving spouses and children and back to the family of the husband. These cultures often stigmatize surviving widows. They deepen the debilitating effects of isolation.
Elder reality in Uganda
This is the reality in Uganda for many elderly persons, who account for only 3% of the population. With half of the population under the age of 15, elderly persons exist in a society that is heavily focused on youth. Government-funded pension programs begin at age 80 in some districts, but the country’s life expectancy is only 58.5. In addition, there are no government-funded programs providing emotional support to people who desperately need it.
What does a person do if they have made it to an elderly age, are living on little to no income, and have been shunned by family and society?
No longer alone
Nearly 100 years old, Kachotara was living alone following the death of her mother. Having never married, she had no children, and other relatives were long gone too. The world seemed more fearful. Sometimes, she would hear unknown voices outside her small home in Uganda, but there was no one to turn to for comfort. Were the people outside coming to harm her? Feeling safer beyond the confines of her walls, Kachotara fled her home to eke out an existence in the bush.
She might have died there if not for the actions of a young woman named Martina. One hot, dusty day, Martina was driving home from the market when she spied what appeared to be an odd bundle of rags. But it was an elderly woman. Kachotara was disoriented, but able to give her name. With a kind arm around the elder’s shoulders, Martina took Kachotara home with her, giving her shelter and a bed. But Kachotara needed more than Martina could afford on her small salary.
Martina knew the Sisters of the Holy Cross through Virika Parish in the Fort Portal Diocese. Inspired by their lives, she turned to Sister Angelica Birungi, CSC, for help. With assistance from the Congregation’s Ministry With the Poor Fund, Sister Angelica was running a parish program that brings elderly citizens together, creating companionship, support and hope.
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Senior citizen thrives
Through the fund, Sister Angelica was able to secure food, clothing and medicine for Kachotara, and she also provided spiritual comfort. She became a friend. So thankful was Kachotara for the blessings of Martina and Sister Angelica, she decided on her own to convert to Catholicism.
As you read this, Kachotara is now living a life of dignity, respect and peace. We thank Martina and Sister Angelica for their heartfelt responses. And we thank you. Without your support to the Ministry With the Poor Fund — which is made possible only through the kindness of donors — Sisters of the Holy Cross would not be able to minister to God’s people in so many ways and in so many places, helping the most vulnerable among us.
Please, give from your heart today so that we can continue the urgent work of manifesting God’s love and striving for social justice in every community where we serve.
A Prayer for the Elderly
Dear God, I lift up to you the elderly and the frail for your blessing.
May love be the gardener of their years, bringing forth from their grounding in you, a harvest of wholeness and peace.
May their souls tower with the strength of the cedars; their hearts pound with the power of the sea.
May joy rise in them like the mountains, and may it be a blessing they share with all those whom they love.
Teach us how to honor with love a life lived into old age. We all belong to one another because we are all your sons and daughters.
—adapted from a Lebanese blessing