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In Malawi, after the International Conference "Ageing in Africa", developments in the Community's presence alongside the elderly

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In Malawi, after the International Conference "Ageing in Africa", developments in the Community's presence alongside the elderly
September 20, 2010

After the First International Conference sponsored by the Community of Sant'Egidio "Ageing in Africa: Sensitizing the Nations", held in Lilongwe in early June, the commitment to the elderly in Malawi has experienced an important development. Several initiatives have been undertaken both at the cultural level and in the field of direct intervention to improve the lives of older people and to encourage integration between the generations.

One of the challenges is to promote a new culture of respect and solidarity towards those who are elderly. In large sectors of Malawian society is actually still strong, the prejudice of believing that aging people exercise witchcraft, and live long "stealing" the lives of young people. A belief reinforced by the high mortality of young adults, caused by the diffusion of AIDS. In fact, the percentage of seropositives in the country is around 14% and it is estimated that at least one million children are "AIDS orphans". At the same time, life expectancy, still very low by European standards (46 years), is longer and the number of elderly grows. A new phenomenon to which the country is not culturally prepared. 

The prejudice against older people is resulting in violent behavior (there are reports not only of discrimination and exclusion, but also frequent incidents of physical violence, even murder). For contrasting it, the Community is displaying an intense educational action towards children and adolescents through the Schools of Peace and activities of the Rainbow Country.


On 12 September, in Blantyre, a major city in the south, there was an event called "Years do not separate us: young and elderly together" in the district of Soche, which was attended by about 150 people of different generations.
In front of an audience predominantly very young, there have been speeches and testimonies of people well on in years, as Mr. Zung, 83, attentively and even more so enthusiastically listened to by the people attending.


The elderly are the poorest and weakest age group of Malawian society, which completely lacks a pension system. those who were living as young men and women by working in fields or in small businesses are today facing great economic difficulties. Many can't eat enough. This is why the Community organizes regular lunches for them: a response to hunger, but also to solitude. Recently in Mzuzu, a northern city, the Community has collected hundreds of elderly poor, to whom we regularly pay visit, for a great lunch.

Another serious problem is housing. More and more elderly people cannot pay the rents, especially in larger cities, and are forced to live on the streets and begging at the market. Right at Blantyre market began the friendship with many of them. An exemplary story is that of Gogo Nachum, 78 years old, escaped from Mozambique with her daughter and 14 grandchildren during the war and come to Malawi in search of peace for his family. After the death of her daughter, Gogo for many years took care of children. But today she is very old, and even his house was demolished. The youth of the community - with their hands - have rebuilt it.

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