After befriending an old woman most had written off as a witch, Apio Josephine discovered her calling.
“The elderly people I meet are loving and full of wisdom despite their vulnerability.”
I am 37 years old, and I was raised in Uganda in Kisoko Amor Village, Tororo District, an area by affected by poverty and HIV/AIDS. As I grew up, I began to notice that the elderly in my community didn’t receive much care.
For three years, I cared for Nanteza Hope, an elderly Woman in my neighborhood. People referred to her as a witch; she was feared and isolated. In my country, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the weakening of traditional support systems have left the elderly people like Nanteza vulnerable.
Eight years ago, when I first told a friend about my intention to visit Nanteza, my friend discouraged me. She said the reason why no one talks to Nanteza or goes to her home is because she is evil. I ignored my friend, wanting to learn more about the old woman.
I felt pity for the woman and I felt I should talk to her. One day I got the courage to go to Nanteza’s home with the intention of becoming her friend. I talked with her for six hours and then I handed her the foodstuffs and clothing that I brought her. During my interaction with the old woman, I learned that she was not a witch. She had lost all her children and grandchildren to HIV/AIDS. Life had become meaningless to her with no one to care for her. She was all alone and praying to God to take her life.
I kept visiting. Whenever I saw Nanteza, I encouraged her to be hopeful since God connected us together. I made it a point every month to save some money to shop for her basic needs. Eventually, Nanteza became my friend.
Traditionally, Ugandan social structure was organized around the family and community. The African extended family network knitted together a network of blood relations, in-laws, and close friends. This network acted as insurance against old age and disabilities. The young and energetic provided insurance for their older folks and took care of their needs. This is now changing.
Over the last several decades, this treasured support network has diminished and has not yet been replaced by any other form of social security system that caters to the elderly.
Despite the difficulties of caregiving, many old people still find great satisfaction in providing care and support within their households to fellow adults and to their children and grandchildren. But they also need care themselves. It is increasingly difficult for older people to afford health care, medicine, food, clothing, and schooling for children under their care. In some instances, grandchildren help out with physical assistance, such as fetching water, agricultural work, cooking, and buying food, but this is not adequate to meet the needs of the elderly.
In 2012, Nanteza Hope fell deeply ill. In her last moments, she called for me, wanting to give me her last words. Unfortunately, I went into labor the same day. My friend died the very day I gave birth to my daughter, who I named Hope.
When I heard the elderly woman I so loved had died, it gave me the necessary courage to begin helping more elderly people within my community. I am driven to give them hope to live a joyful and positive life during their last days on Earth using every available resource.
I have been supporting the elderly now for the last five years. In 2014, I formally established Hope for the Elderly Ministries, Uganda. We join in regular fellowship with seniors for spiritual and emotional support; conduct home visits for evaluation; and deliver hot meals and basic health care needs. My organization is improving living conditions for the elderly to enable them to in turn support their dependents.
When I visit the homes of the elderly in my community, I see that many live in extreme poverty with very poor living conditions. However, the elderly people I meet are loving and full of wisdom despite their vulnerability.
Ever since I first gathered the courage to talk to the woman my neighbors deemed evil, elderly people have been some of my best friends. I will passionately support their needs to my very last breath.
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How to Get Involved
You can support Apio Josephine's work to provide care and support to seniors in Uganda. Her organization, Hope for the Elderly Ministries Uganda, seeks volunteers and mentors to help with website work and fundraising efforts. To get started, contact Josephine in the comments or via private message. To learn more, you can visit the Hope for the Elderly Ministries Uganda website and follow their work on Facebook.