Fifty and beyondIt is important to change social perceptions about ageing and recognise contributions elders can make
Imagine yourself nearing 50 years of age or someone referring to you as a senior citizen. Some of you may laugh about it, while others may think of it as normal. For many of us old, old-age seems to have more negative connotations than positive ones, reflecting some level of ageist attitude.
An article written by Jeanette Leardi in ChangingAging suggests that it all comes down to the type of relationship you have with ageing, similar to having a relationship with another person. Do you see ageing as an enemy? Do you fear it? Or do you think of it as a friend, characterised by meaningful engagement? Or is ageing like a neighbour whom you dislike but have to acknowledge?
A former sapper
Those who consider ageing a friend are most likely to be in the workforce or enjoying retirement. One such individual is Hari Bahadur Thapa. Now 67 years of age, Thapa is living it up and happy with the way he is ageing. Spending time with his family in the US and Nepal and engaging in various health and well-being activities are key factors determining his positive quality of life. In addition to an hourly daily walk, Thapa walks to pay his utility bills for some extra exercise. He adds, “I like helping my sweetheart with house chores. Being a former British Army sapper, I prefer doing all the minor electrical, plumbing, bricklaying and concrete work myself.” He hopes that using his iPad for Facebooking and checking emails will serve as brain exercises and prevent him from getting dementia. While in Nepal, he also utilises the services that Bihani Social Venture offers to individuals above the age of 50. “As a member of Bihani, I enjoy attending their events and activities whether it is the members’ potluck or events with their possible stakeholders to provide our suggestions for their upcoming projects.”
Thapa retired as a Major after serving for 33 years in the British Army. He later worked as an Engineer Advisor for 14 years with Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association, British Gurkhas Nepal (KAAA BGN). With KAAA BGN, he built suspension, suspended and truss bridges that “thousands of people cross every day.” Clean drinking water and electricity were also made available. “I can proudly say I have made some contribution—although it may be little—towards a good cause for my country.” Thapa suggests his peers to, “exercise, eat a healthy diet, keep busy, explore new places, meet old friends and use new gadgets so that you won’t be left far behind in this fast-paced world.”
In the coming years, it will become a necessity under any circumstance to find ways to consider ageing a friend and age positively. With growing life expectancies and decreasing fertility rates, the number of people above the age of 60 is rapidly increasing more than any other age group in Nepal as well as globally. Evidence suggests that the migration of the youths from Nepal to foreign lands and from rural to urban areas has left older people isolated. Recent findings by the World Health Organisation have predicted that in four years, that is by 2020, the number of people aged 60 and above in the world will be greater than the number of children below five years for the first time. By 2050, this population will escalate to two billion (from the current day’s estimate of 841 million), making it 20 percent of the world’s population. Developing countries will be most affected by this crisis, with Asia claiming the highest number of older persons.
With this in mind, Bihani Social Venture was established as a social enterprise in 2013 to provide various services and opportunities to engage individuals above the age of 50 (but not restricted to it). It is important to change social perceptions about ageing and realise the contribution elders can make to help create inclusive and resilient communities with their immense experiences and wisdom. Bihani’s motto is ‘Re-live. Re-Explore. Re-Engage’ with the objective of creating ‘Elders as Change Agents’ and mobilising the community for the betterment of society.
Thapa is the head of Health & Rehabilitation for Bihani Social Venture