GONE are the days when old people were treasured by their families and communities. Today, most of them live in dire conditions and are neglected by the community. Homeless, some roam the villages they helped set up while those who still have roofs over t
GONE are the days when old people were treasured by their families and communities. Today, most of them live in dire conditions and are neglected by the community. Homeless, some roam the villages they helped set up while those who still have roofs over their heads are going hungry or living on a meal a day. It once was that the old were looked after by the young. Today, with AIDS having killed off nearly a whole generation of young people in the 1980s and 90s, many old people are struggling to fend not only for themselves but for the orphans left behind. The life of 75-year-old Vena Namulele tells the story of the challenges the Ugandan elderly face.
Jajja Mutooro, as the children in her locality know her, has lived in the village of Nakinyugizi in Luwafu Makindye for longer than any of its residents. This village has come a long way since she and her husband settled on it. She on the other hand has sunk a long way from the young energetic council worker she was then. To begin with, she has since lost the big bungalow her husband married her into. An inheritance wrangle shortly after her husbandâ€™s death in 1970 led to its demolition and selling of the plot it stood on. Today she lives in a small brick house partitioned by mud and wattle walls into three small rooms each about 2sq metres. Here she lives with three of her orphaned grandchildren.
The grandchildren are a reminder of one other precious thing she has lost â€“ her children. â€œI started having children in 1952. I had six and miscarried once. All the six died as adults,â€ she says confessing that the pain of losing them is still raw. They all died in quick succession in the 90s. â€œFour died of accidents and the four died of this disease (AIDS),â€ she says. They left behind more than 20 orphans.
Today, the 75-year-old whose body shakes with the mere effort of reaching out for her walking stick is supposed to fend for three of these orphans.
More accurately, they fend for themselves â€“ with the aid of charity from neighbours. Namulele says a group of Christian mzungus pays their school fees and the children themselves till her small plot for food. The family depends on Namuleleâ€™s sole income - the sh30,000 she collects every month as rent from two small rooms that stand in what was once the homeâ€™s compound. â€œWhen my last child died, I sold his house and built that one for rent,â€ she explains. Of course, it is not enough to go beyond the bare minimum. Namulele says the family eats only one meal a day. â€œWe cannot afford to eat more. Where would we get that kind of money?â€ she asks before explaining that their typical meal of posho and gnut paste costs about sh1800. She says on a good day, one of two kind women in the neighbourhood will send her some food or a kilo of sugar. One of these kind neighbours also allows the family to draw 20 litres of water from her tap daily.
As often happens with the elderly, Namulele is in failing health yet she can only chance upon health care as it has in Uganda increasingly become an expensive privatised sector. â€œWhen I get sick, God looks after me,â€ she shrugs. â€œThose tablets you see were brought by my daughter in law but she recently had a motor accident and has been hospitalised for long. There will be no money for others,â€ she states. Her ailments on the other hand come in far more abundance than the medication. â€œEvery bone in my body aches. My chest and back are most painful. I think this is what is going to kill me. I have no appetite,â€ she laments discarding the piece of sweet potato she had been nibbling on. In the past three years alone, she has been twice hospitalised. Once, a car hit her as she crossed the road and another time she was bitten by a neighbourâ€™s dog.
The dog biting incident brought out another problem old people face â€“ disrespect and emotional abuse from their communities. â€œThe neighbours abused me and said that I had been out late drinking and looking for men. They refused to pay for my treatment,â€ Namuleme tells. One of her daughters-in-law paid for her treat but Namulele is convinced that had her own children been alive, the neighbours would not have taken advantage of her so.
In another example of how her community abuses her, Namulele is bitter about one of her neighbours whom she calls a witch. â€œShe sits on the graves of my relatives over there and smokes a pipe. Today she was chanting saying that I and my grandson will be hit by thunder.â€
Namuleleâ€™s situation would have been a little brighter had Uganda had a policy on the elderly or at least a universal social security system. Even the social security and pension systems cater for only those that were salaried employees. Namulele who was a casual labourer in the city council for 20 years got a single paid retirement benefit of sh60,000 when she retired in the early 1980s. â€œI bought a dress and gave away the rest,â€ she says. Now she hardly has anyone to give her any. She dulls her misery by drinking generous amounts of local brew.
According to Uganda Reach the Aged Association (URAA), 64% of the elderly people in Uganda live on less than $1 (sh1,900) a day. According to the 2002 two census report, the elderly constituted 6.1% of the population and their number was increasing by 7.4%. It is estimated that today there are over 3,000,000 elderly people. URAA says most of these live in poverty, isolation and loneliness, and are either homeless or live in dilapidated houses.
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The elderly lead sad lives