Sant'Egidio for the Elderly in Malawi: young people's commitment to protect the elderly fosters a new culture and becomes law to protect their rights

Protecting the elderly is a priority for Sant'Egidio in Malawi: the Community has been committed to their protection for many years by providing direct assistance and accompaniment as well as campaigning at cultural and even legal level.

The elderly, who are frail and increasingly often alone, especially in villages. Actually rural villages are becoming depopulated as young people seek employment opportunities in the urban areas. The elderly are thus victims of all sorts of abuse.  They are accused of witchcraft - just part of a superstitious belief that the elderly are responsible for mournful events - which is becoming an increasing pretext to evict them from their homes to the point of physical assault and even murder. Many who have had their homes taken away in this way are now living on the streets in dire poverty.

Youth for a culture of respect for the elderly

Malawi's broad-based Youth for Peace movement has launched a mobilisation that combines direct assistance and accompaniment of the loneliest and poorest elderly with the implementation of a network -  individuals, associations and local institutions - to increase and ensure the protection of the elderly. Last February, the Youth for Peace started a campaign in schools in the country's main cities to raise awareness among the youngest to respect the elderly, with the slogan 'Ageing is not witchcraft but a blessing that must be cherished'.

A law in favour of the elderly

For the last two years, Sant'Egidio and other stakeholders has promoted a National Commission for the Defence of the Elderly.  The Commission has presented a special bill to protect their rights and eventually in April 2024, the law was passed in Parliament. The law provides for economic subsidies, home assistance services and greater protection by institutions. A representative from Sant'Egidio is a member of the Steering Committee that will oversee the implementation of the law. It is a great victory for the protection of the lives of the most vulnerable, and it confirms a right too often denied in Malawi. 

Helping the elderly to have a home

To prevent the elderly from being left homeless, Sant'Egidio has been working at two levels. The first is direct engagement of Youth for Peace to repair and sometimes rebuild the homes of the elderly, damaged or destroyed by extreme weather events - such as the houses rebuilt after Cyclone Freddy last year - or that have fallen into disrepair due to poverty and neglect.
Last week in Mulanje, in the south of the country, one of the hardest hit districts, two new houses were inaugurated to accommodate four elderly people who had been living on the streets because the cyclone had swept away their homes. Two elderly women and two elderly men can face the rainy season in solid brick and concrete houses, dry and with a roof over their heads.
The work involved members of the Mulanje Community, who actively helped the construction laboures, and some people from other districts who helped in the planning and design.
These new houses add to those already existing in Balaka and Blantyre.
Sant'Egidio homes for the elderly, besides being a refuge and a new family for guests, are a testimony for the local population and a place of reconciliation between generations. Their realisation is an expression of a determined resistance to the 'culture of discarding' and promotes a new culture of the human being in which the elderly fully participate in the social fabric and enjoy the right to care and respect for life.