I recently learned of a psychiatrist working in Zimbabwe who inspired me. Dr. Dixon Chibanda deals with global mental health in a part of the world where needs are huge and professionals are few.
Wondering how to deal with this dilemma, his creative solution was to engage seniors in his work. He “trained grandmothers in relevant mental health concepts, provided them a cell phone and engaged them in talk therapy on friendship benches.” In the last few years they’ve made major strides helping those who need it most utilizing services of local seniors who now feel useful and important vs. sidelined because of their age.
Chibanda’s work can be viewed in a compelling TED talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?tv+Cprp_EjVtwA
His story struck a chord. Today there are 619 million seniors over age 65 and by 2050 that number will soar to 1.6 billion. Translate that to how many seniors we serve who feel over the hill, marginalized and left with the feeling they are now “PIPs”…Previously Important People questioning Now What? How to turn PIP’s into VIP’s…Very Important People who have a renewed sense of meaning and purpose?
The relevance to many of us is apparent who interact with countless seniors deciding what’s next, how and where to contribute. Many of our peers and clients know they have more to give but don’t know where to begin. I’m reminded of that book written by Barbara Sher back in the 70’s “I could Be Anything If I Only Knew What It Was.” More recently, sa dear friend, colleague ane author from MN, Connie Goldman, penned “Who Am I Now That I’m Not Who I Was.” Both books have not only catchy titles but also they are so true. Our peers and colleagues are constantly seeking places ane ways where age and experience are valued, needed and welcomed. A few corners to consider:
Seniors working in or contributing to::
…schools reading to youngsters, helping students at all ages grasp difficult concepts, introducing new ways to explore, learn, build confidence and overcome deficits
…libraries and bookstores hosting daily programs like “Explore the World thru Books” are former educators and actors turned storytellers who continue to engage and entertain audiences
…rails to trails programs in state/national parks, serving as historians, naturalists, trailblazers and guides
…zoos and veterinary practices animal lovers participating as dog walkers, handlers, assistants, information specialists and ambassadors who engage with visitors around topics of mutual interest
…countless homes comforting elders as companions, caregivers, providers of necessary services, friendly visitors who engage and bring joy and meaning to elders
…museums, theatres entertainment loving individuals serving as ushers, docents, tour guides and friendly helpers
…cruise ships, as workshop presenters, information specialists, educators about diverse geographies of the world and local customs
That’s the tip of the iceberg.
Think about needs in your community that can be filled by someone who knows a lot, has worked for decades, dealt professionally with thousands of decisions/dilemmas and now wants to contribute using current interests are natural talents. The inquiry can start with simple questions: “Which of your skills/talents would you enjoy using now?” ”What are you doing that makes your heart sing?”
More than ever before our intrinsic joy and talents are needed and valued. The added benefit: we have each other with whom to brainstorm , resources galore from which to learn, technology and electronics to bridge creative gaps. As the sayings go, “If not now, when and if not me, who?”
by Joyce Cohen