Promoting dialogue and social inclusion in south-eastern Europe

Publicado: 9 junio 2011 15:22 CET

By Giovanni Zambello in Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina

In recent years, south-eastern Europe has been confronted with drastic demographic and social changes, leaving older people increasingly affected by poverty and social exclusion.

Home care is one of the most important activities conducted by many National Societies in south-eastern Europe, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, where, since 2000 – and since 2006 with support from the Italian Red Cross – the National Society has been running a programme which provides quality home care services to vulnerable elderly people. The programmes involve volunteers regularly visiting people at home and providing them with basic services, including grocery shopping, help with administrative chores such as paying taxes and bills, and arranging for visits to the hospital or doctor. But it can also include basic health assistance, as well as the distribution of food parcels and hygienic goods for elderly people with financial problems.

Mubera Begovic, supervisor of the home care programme in the Red Cross branch in Stari Grad, Sarajevo, said more needed to be done. “At state level, a comprehensive social policy to support elderly persons is still missing, which, combined with the scarcity of resources, results in an overall lack of services,” he said. “Within this scenario, a key role is played by the Red Cross. Why us? Because of all our volunteers, who are trained and fully involved in such programmes. However, we do not have enough volunteers or resources to cover all the needs.”

Gordana has been volunteering in the home care programme of the Red Cross of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the last 16 years. But for her, it is much more than just volunteering, it’s her life. “I take care of eight people every day from 5 to 10pm. Many of them are bed-ridden and cannot move. The majority of them live alone, have no relatives, and no source of income.

"They basically need everything, from grocery shopping, to someone helping them pay the bills, escorting them to the doctor, doing small household jobs and, of course, assisting them with basic hygienic aid,” she said. Gordana is also a professional nurse, and provides basic health services, such as measuring blood pressure and administering prescribed drugs, as part of her routine tasks.

“Sometimes it’s hard for me to simply carry out my services,” she continues, while accompanying us in a visit to three elderly sisters living in the countryside near Pale, a town southeast of Sarajevo. “I never had a car, and many of the people I assist live in remote areas which are very hard to access. So I usually ask the local branch in Pale to accompany me or, if there are no vehicles available, I try to hitch a ride. But that’s exhausting. There is so much more that we could do if we simply had more resources available: in Pale alone there more than 60 cases that we’re currently following. And these people have nobody but us to take care of them.”

In Montenegro – which from 8 to 12 June 2011 will be hosting an international conference on home care, gathering together National Societies from south-eastern Europe, as well as other NGOs, local authorities and civil societies organisations – the home care programme has been conducted since 2002 in 14 local branches. In the last three years, the activities have been financially supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in cooperation with the Italian Red Cross, and, since January 2010, the Austrian Red Cross also joined the cooperation, supporting the development of pilot projects in two of the branches.

Nikola Peković, a 21-year-old volunteer in the local Red Cross branch in Nikšić, said that often just being there to talk to can be enough for some, including former Red Cross activist Vitomir Lekić who Nikola and fellow volunteer Ivana Kontić visit each week. “Not that I can help him with anything big, but for him it is enough that I come to visit him, we play some chess, I buy him some groceries, but mostly it is just my interest for his life and my will to help him.”

“They remind me a bit of my youth,” Vitomir said when we visited. “Once, when I was young, I used to help older people too. We had similar activities, and this looks to me like a sort of continuation, and I am so glad that there are more and more young people who keep such tradition alive. The cooperation with the Red Cross youth is outstanding, beautiful, and true. I think it would be essential to invest more on volunteers’ recognition and motivation, so that this and other programmes can grow stronger and keep supporting elderly people in need.”

Zorica Crncević, Secretary General of the local Red Cross branch in Bar, said young volunteers were the backbone of the organisation in both Montenegro and in the region. “In Montenegro, youngsters are culturally very much attached to older people and we see that they are able to build a unique relationship with them. Thus, we believe that promoting their engagement in such programme and guaranteeing that they’re properly trained and motivated in their work, can significantly contribute to strengthening inter-generational dialogue and social inclusion of older generations in society.”