Often when I think about the elderly in our own society I’m conscious I have a sense of unease. Popular clichés come to my mind of piles of post stacked high behind a door or lonely individuals sat with a blanket over their knees by the fire. In our own society we fear aging, we fear loneliness and we spend much of our lives trying to avoid the inevitable outcome of getting old. I remember my own grandmother, by that stage in her 70s, sitting in a hospital bed after breaking her arm and complaining that they had surrounded her with ‘old dears’. The old dears were the same age as she was, but perhaps we are all young minds looking out from aging eyes.
Time spent living overseas has taught me that not every society in the world views aging in the same way as we do in Britain, but that the elderly are still often among the most vulnerable. That is one of the reasons I have always admired the work of our partner CDVTA in Cameroon. When I had the chance to meet CDVTA Director Francis Njuakom Nchii a few years ago I was struck by his passion and purpose in serving people living in poverty, but particularly older members of the community. Francis referred to being able to work with the elderly as the opportunity to sit under “a canopy of wisdom”. Those words have stayed with me and have led me to consider older people in a different way.
Over the years CDVTA have worked tirelessly with elderly people to help them realise and assert their constitutional rights. For example at local level, staff and volunteers have helped individuals to attain ID cards and the and the right to vote and travel. At a national level, their programmes have enabled elderly people to raise their voices on a range of policy issues, and CDVTA is increasingly called upon for advice by local and national government. I was therefore delighted to hear that CDVTA has been able to make another step towards improving the position of the elderly in Cameroon.
CDVTA has long called for a National Policy on Ageing, and proposed the introduction of a universal non-contributory pension amongst other essential services for elderly people. In May 2015, Francis received some groundbreaking news: the government of Cameroon has validated this policy. The proposal will now be sent to the national assembly for debate and, all being well, eventual signing into law. Commenting on the achievement, Francis told us: “This is good progress and All We Can is to be praised and appreciated for all that you have done through CDVTA to add our voice to this important document.”
When considering the draft policy presented to the government by the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Prime Minister of Cameroon, Philémon Yang, said: “Social promotion and protection of older persons is a priority of government action”. The document covers issues related to the protection and promotion of the rights of the elderly, and while it is not yet certain the extent to which it will include everything that CDVTA hopes for when it is finally enshrined into law, it is a really important step along the road to prioritising the care, support and voice of the elderly in Cameroon. I look forward to seeing the final version of the policy when the government publishes it at the end of August.
Aging can be a daunting process whereever you live in the world, but when you know that your rights are protected and that you are still able to contribute to society in a meaningful way I think it makes that process far less frightening. All We Can helps people in some of the world’s poorest communities to become all they can, by investing in partnerships that improve quality of life and create positive, long-term change for individuals, families and nations. This change is important at every stage of a person’s life and I am so proud to be able to celebrate CDVTA’s success in bringing dignity, hope and transformation to people as they enter the latter years of their lives. I am privileged to share a little of that canopy of wisdom that Francis so often speaks about, and am glad about the Cameroonian government’s recognition of the wisdom shared by CDVTA and the elderly people they represent.