Supporting lonely elderly people in Georgia

Published: 27 October 2006 0:00 CET

Rusudan Tsereteli in Tbilisi

It is morning and 18 Georgia Red Cross volunteers leave the office to visit lonely elderly people. “Every morning, I think about the people who need our care and love,” says 22 year-old Vladimer Shakiashvili, one of the volunteers. “I always hurry to meet them, spend time with them and talk about their life.”

Vladimer enjoys his job and believes that supporting vulnerable people helps reduce their social isolation and gives them back an active life.

“I am sure that our taking care of elderly people allows them to feel positive about the future,” he explains. “Also, when my grandmother was dying, she asked me to take care of elderly people, to respect and support them.”

With support from the International Federation and the Norwegian Red Cross, 65 trained volunteers visit 1,500 lonely elderly people every month in the capital of Georgia. They bring food and non-food items, offer moral support and help with chores such as cooking, cleaning and shopping.

Mariam Dolidze is 91 years old. She lives in a crumbling apartment building where the lights are turned off to save electricity. She is always happy when the Georgia Red Cross volunteers bring her a ration of cooking oil, sugar and beans. “I remember when I was told that Red Cross volunteers would bring me food,” she says. “I asked myself if it was possible that somebody still thinks about us?”

The elderly people can also meet and attend various activities organised by Red Cross volunteers at social centres. These are always crowded. “Every day makes me glad because I can come to this centre,” says 65-year-old Mary Lashkhia. “I get up early in the morning and pick flowers from my garden to take there.”

“You can’t imagine how much lonely elderly people want to have an active lifestyle,” explains Bela Zurabishvili, an executive secretary of the Georgia Red Cross branch in Didube-Chugureti district.

“Currently we are working on a theatrical performance and almost all the elderly people are involved. Everybody shares their ideas and suggestions.”

With the support of the International Federation and partners, the Georgia Red Cross has been helping lonely elderly people since 1995 through its visiting nurses programme. It has developed an extensive network of doctors and nurses who provide basic medical and social service to communities, including 12,000 housebound pensioners. More are needed, as there are still many single elderly people in Georgia in need of support, love and care.

Since November 2004, the Imereti regional organization of the Georgia Red Cross has run a social assistance programme for single elderly people in Kutaisi, West Georgia. Supported by the British Red Cross, this programme benefits 460 vulnerable single elderly people, including 140 who are immobile.

Staff working on the programme cooperate with the local government, giving older people the opportunity to access official assistance. Social clubs have also been organised and leaflets advocating the rights of lone pensioners have recently been distributed.

“The project’s progress and existence are very important for single older people,” says Nino Avaliani, regional manager of the programme. “It has given them the chance to overcome social exclusion and isolation.”