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When there’s only grandparents left: An overloaded older generation in Cameroon

One of CDVTA's clubs for the elderly, Cameroon. © All We Can/Guillaume Debar

Conservative estimates ((USAID figures)) put the number of children around the world who have lost one or both parents to HIV at over 17 million – 90% of whom live in sub-saharan Africa. Even worse, almost 3.4 million children in sub-saharan Africa under the age of 15 are living with HIV themselves.

The pressure on older generations

These factors have combined to place an unprecedented level of pressure and workload on surviving grandparents.

HIV has caused much direct suffering but – in wiping out full generations of many families – it has also left grandparents tottering under a weight they never expected to carry.

At sixty-five years old, one grandfather put it this way. ((WHO report, The Impact of AIDS on Older People in Africa.)) “Looking after orphans is like starting life all over again, because I have to work on the farm, clean the house, feed the children, buy school uniforms. I thought I would no longer do these things again. I am not sure if I have the energy to cope.”

Percentage of the Adult (ages 15-49) population with HIV/AIDS. Data from UNAIDS.

The situation is compounded when grandparents themselves are HIV positive, as they balance family responsibilities alongside health issues that would be a heavy burden even on a young, energetic parent.

In an article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, one HIV positive girl of 13  years old, describes the issue, saying: ‘There are no disadvantages being cared for by an older carer but it is just that my grandmother who would care for me keeps on falling sick and so I take care of her until she recovers and she also does the same.’

Building independence and confidence in Cameroon

In Cameroon, All We Can is supporting a local organisation that has a specific focus on reaching older people. Community Development Volunteers for Technical Assistance (CDVTA) started out of a passion for serving the older generation – the founder of the organisation describes older people as providing a vital “canopy of wisdom” in society.

Supported by All We Can since 2004, CDVTA understands the importance of empowering older people to exercise their full democratic rights – and helps them give voice to concerns about the way in which Cameroon’s government policy impacts both them and their local community.

In setting up a network of clubs for older people, All We Can and CDVTA are helping to create a support infrastructure which has both psychological as well as practical benefits. Through these clubs members not only keep in touch with peers – they can also find sustainable business opportunities and develop sources of income such as goat rearing.

You can learn more about All We Can’s work in Cameroon here.


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