Hard Times for the Elderly
MAMA ONIYAN, who is 68 years old, lives in a major West African city. When she was younger, she dreamed of enjoying her twilight years in quiet retirement, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Instead she spends her days selling cold drinking water under the tropical sun. The little she earns helps her to survive. Her two sons live in another country far away. It has been a long time since they sent her any money.
In times past, the elderly in Africa were highly esteemed. They were respected for their experience and knowledge, along with the wisdom and judgment these often bring. They helped rear grandchildren. Younger ones sought their advice and their approval. People lived according to the Biblical counsel: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man [or, woman].”—Leviticus 19:32.
Times have changed. Poverty, inflation, unemployment, and mass migration to the cities have left many of the elderly to fend for themselves. Director of HelpAge Kenya, Camillus Were, says: “The tradition of supporting and caring for the elderly has become weaker and weaker.”
Of course, the weakening of family ties is not unique to African countries. Speaking of Japan, the Guardian Weekly reports: “Filial devotion used to be the keystone of a Japanese system of values bequeathed by Confucianism, but it has not survived urbanisation and the loosening of family ties: today, 85 per cent of Japanese die in hospitals or old people’s homes.”
Whatever the situation, those who genuinely want to please God strive to honor their parents. They heed the Bible’s counsel: “Honor your father and your mother . . . that it may go well with you and you may endure a long time on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:2, 3) Though it is not always easy to honor and care for elderly parents, it can bring rich rewards.