Lilongwe, Malawi: “Life Begins at 60!” Opening Ceremony of the International Conference on Old People
June 3rd 2010
“Ageing in Africa: Sensitizing the Nations” the opening Ceremony of the Conference was held on the 2nd of June in Lilongwe. It is a Conference on the situation of old people in the continent, who are often marginalized and object of violence.
The idea of the conference is a result of a meeting between Malawi’s President and the Founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Andrea Riccardi. It was realized thanks to the work of the Silver Grey Bingu Foundation (foundation of the President of Malawi to help old people) and the Community of Sant'Egidio
Academics, policymakers, non-governmental organizations, associations and administrators from many countries such as Malawi, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Sweden, Italy and Belgium, partidipated to the Conference.
The main objectives of the conference are to promote a new social status for the elderly in Africa, to confront the experience of care for the elderly in Europe, to raise awareness among African nations on the need to ensure the welfare of the elderly population.
The conference opened with the speech of Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Community of Sant'Egidio, who stressed that the initiative is both unique and new in Africa because it opens a Euro-African discussion on the topic of the elderly in Africa. It is necessary to overcome an approach that only leads to institutionalization. An approach which allows older people to experience the beauty of the gift of a long life. Too many older people live their last years away from their family, their loved ones locked up in institutions or in facilities where life ends sadly. Marco Impagliazzo also recalled the history of the Community of Sant'Egidio and its commitment for the elderly from Rome to the world in the last forty years. The Community has met many elderly, loved them and helped them to live. This support has been closeness, friendship, care, companionship. But it was also cultural, medical, health and social services. The experience of the Community of Sant'Egidio was at the center of the debate, especially the proposal to rebuild around the elderly the family tha is missing, to return to them the love that makes them live again. Marco Impagliazzo asked that the meeting may not be an isolated incident, butthat it may be repeated in Malawi and other African countries. He furthermore asked the participants to unite African and European efforts to find the reasons of respect, solidarity, humanity towards the elderly.
Other intervention followed: Frances E. Mkandawire, Executive Director of the Bingu Silvergrey Foundation, Reen Bessie Kachere, Minister of People with Disabilities and for the Elderly, who both brought their greetings to the participants and renewed their commitment to struggle for a different future for the elderly.
The conference was then officially opened by the intervention of the President of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, who this year has also assumed the chairmanship of the African Union. After thanking the Community of Sant'Egidio for the realization of the Conference, he stressed that the institutionalization is not the solution to the problem of the elderly. In Malawi, many older people are marginalized, left alone and sometimes considered witches. "Older people are not evil" - he said forcefully. The President reaffirmed his commitment soo that the elderly have a place in society, are helped to stay at home and considered full citizens, reaffirming that a society that does not respects the elderly has no future.