Respecting experience and inspiring the next generation

Publié: 1 octobre 2013 14:41 CET

Debates around the swelling seniors population are usually framed around issues of health and social care, and the fear of a diminishing workforce supporting growing numbers of over 60s. But this is just one aspect of the world’s shifting demographics and doesn’t take in account the transformative resource that older people can become once they put ‘work’ behind them. Communities can benefit from this group’s skills and experience, while working as volunteers, mentors or leaders within the community can enrich their lives.

 In Lisbon’s hospitals this resource is put to good use every day. Volunteers from the Portuguese Red Cross play an invaluable role in supporting health care professionals, helping to improve the quality of care and to reduce the suffering of patients.

One such volunteer is Maria José Santos Bicho, who began as a Red Cross volunteer when she was a young woman. During the Portuguese Colonial War from 1961 to 1975, Maria José volunteered in hospitals, providing emotional support to soldiers returning from battle. She also supported families who returning from the colonies at the end of the conflict.

 Maria José continues to volunteer to this day. At 80 years old, she coordinates a group of hospital volunteers through the Red Cross Lisbon branch. She brings many years of experience to the role and says that, over the last 50 years, motivation has never been an issue. “Volunteering is my way of life. I believe in a better world,” she says.

 Maria José is just one of the hundreds of thousands of older volunteers that dedicate their time, knowledge and experience to help others every day.

Anitta Underlin, Director of the IFRC Europe Zone, says it is vital that we recognize the role that older people can play in building and maintaining an effective volunteer force. “Active ageing and intergenerational solidarity can help ensure that as we age, our communities transform for the better, appreciating the contribution to active citizenship by all ages and all individuals,” she says.

Today (October 1) is the UN’s International Day of Older Persons, and the Red Cross Red Crescent is renewing its call to governments, National Societies, partners and donors to prepare for the changes that ageing populations will bring and to recognize the important role that we can all play in improving our communities and inspiring the next generation of volunteers.

A recently published report – Years that count: Report on active ageing and intergenerational solidarity – explores the challenges and opportunities that the ageing population in Europe pose.