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By Mark DaCosta- On Saturday October 1, the world observed International Day of Older Persons 2022. The day was introduced by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly with an aim of honouring the contribution of older persons and looking into the problems that they face. The theme of the 2022 observance is, “Resilience of Older Persons in a Changing World.” In Guyana, the day — which is set aside to honour our country’s senior citizens — passed quietly without any fanfare whatsoever. This publication is not aware of any acknowledgement of the special day by the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP) regime.
On the following Monday, October 3, Guyana’s pensioners could be seen, as they are at the beginning of every month, lining up at various post offices to collect the $23,000 disbursement. Village Voice News (VVN) spoke with a number of persons who lined up at one post office to get their pensions.
VVN began by asking persons who agreed to share their stories if they knew about the observance of International Day of Older Persons; only one gentleman knew about it. He said that he recalled seeing former president Brigadier David Granger on TV giving a speech at an event related to the observance. The gentleman may have been referring to remarks made by the former Head of State in 2016. On that occasion, the former president had said, “…We have a plan and part of that plan is ensuring that you live in happy households, and we have to do more. We are not a rich country, but we want to give you what we could afford to ensure that you live in happy households.
“We want to ensure too that you have quality housing and the third thing we want to ensure you of, is your concern about your health. We know the older you get, the more you need medical attention. We must choose a lifestyle that will extend our lives and we must take responsibility for our health…
“This is the silver period of our lives, and it must be the time for a good life when we can celebrate our contributions to society and when young people and look us to us and respect us and learn from us because they too will become older persons. They must learn to respect the older persons because we are the repositories of experience and expertise.”
The former president had been addressing the audience at a special luncheon organised for elderly persons from the Upper Demerara- Berbice (Region Ten) area, held at the Umana Yana, in observance of International Day for Older Persons.
In 2022, though, the observance passed unnoticed and un-noted by the ruling PPP regime.
Ms. Seeta (not her real name) said that she goes to the Post Office at the start of every month to get her pension. The elderly woman noted that although the line is usually long, waiting her turn has been made easier because she can sit in the covered waiting area built by the previous administration.
Ms. Seeta said that she lives with her daughter within walking distance from the post office. She said that she does not have to pay rent and the small pension is used to buy food for herself. She said that her biggest concern is being robbed after she collects her pension. Ms. Seeta pointed out some young men who could be seen loitering on bicycles opposite the post office. The woman said, “Dem boys is bandits; they know we coming out the post office with money, that is why I does collect me pension and ketch a taxi to go home, even though is right around the corner.”
Ms. Seeta said that she would prefer a system where her pension could go to the bank. In that case, she would not have to go to the post office and risk being robbed.
Another senior lady shared a different story. Ms. Grace (not her real name) said that her grown children are overseas and are not in touch with her. She said that she lives in a house with three other women and a “landlady.” She said that she collects her pension and gives $25,000 to the landlady to stay at the house. She said that the other three women do the same thing.
Ms. Grace said that she makes spending-money by selling dog food at the roadside. She said that she teamed-up with one of the other women in the house; the other woman cooks the dog food while Ms. Grace sells it. “We does split the lil profit half and half.” She said that although she misses her life as a healthy woman who worked as a domestic helper, she accepts that this is her new reality. She said that her biggest problem is taking care of her diabetes. She related that she cannot afford the meals that the doctors recommend; she eats what she can afford.
Ms. Grace added that her living arrangement is worrisome because she has no privacy. Sometimes, she said, the other women in the house use her food; there is no place for her to secure her belongings. She ended the conversation with this publication by noting that she has a sick foot which she tries to protect from injury, because, she said, “If I hurt the foot more, it will not get better because of the sugar (diabetes), and I have to walk so I could go and sell me dog food.”
While one obviously cannot infer that all elderly Guyanese live in adverse circumstances, at the same time, one cannot conclude that the problems cited here are the worst challenges facing Guyana’s seniors. One may reasonably deduce, though, that too many older citizens face unnecessary difficulties which any caring government can mitigate if it has the will to do so. But since the PPP regime did not even acknowledge the observance of International Day of Older Persons 2022 persons are left to wonder if the ruling regime cares at all about our senior folk.