As more persons survive into the advanced stages of life, the needs and issues of aging populations have risen to the forefront of the development process. Aging is not a separate issue from social integration, economic stability or issues of poverty.(1) In fact, the eradication of poverty has a specific dimension in the context of aging, since older persons remain one of the largest groups affected by poverty in many societies. (2) Respect and care for the elderly is the only appropriate response to their intrinsic dignity. Because of their vulnerability, older persons require the support and consideration of society and governments at every level.
As a global coalition of young people, the World Youth Alliance recognizes the dignity and value of every person and acknowledges the important role that older persons have in the integral development of younger generations. We understand that aging is a lifelong process and universal to the human family. We are all members of an aging society; policies and agendas created for the elderly today will be ours tomorrow.
The family plays a critical role in achieving sustainable development, and is pivotal to the physical, social and economic well-being of the elderly. It is primarily within families that care and support is provided for the elderly worldwide. (3) The family is also the school of solidarity and deeper humanity in which elders fulfill the role of educating and passing on values to the younger generation. This role has ensured man’s survival and progress and promoted a culture in which intergenerational solidarity fosters the common good, especially the realization of responsibilities towards future generations.
As stated in the Madrid Plan of Action, “Intergenerational ties, obligations and solidarity remain at the very heart of every society regardless of its stage of development.” (4) Respect and care for the elderly, which has been one of the few constants in human culture everywhere, reflects a basic interplay between self-preserving and society-preserving impulses which has ensured the survival and progress of the human race. Worldwide, the overall responsibility of the family to provide traditional care and support the needs of the aging is diminishing. Therefore, there is an evident need to educate the general public, and in particular families, with regard to the aging process. Poverty eradication requires recognizing the role that families play in the lives of all persons, including the young and the old.
Elderly Wisdom and Memories
As a young person who was nurtured within a loving family, I have witnessed firsthand the importance of the family to the sustained development of society and culture. It was through my family that I first and most strongly experienced love and recognition as a unique person with worth and dignity. Relationships with my elderly relatives have taught me to respect and care for older persons and to value the unique gifts they bring to society. I have been given the great gift of care-giving for my grandparents as they grew older, deteriorated in health and mind, and eventually passed away. These experiences were irreplaceable and precious to me and to my development as a person.
Attending closely to my grandmother as she slowly suffered and her body was ravaged by cancer, I was privileged to be a witness to her life and to what it truly means to “die with dignity” as she made a gift of herself to the last, even as she was receiving care for her most basic of needs. Although she lacked the capacities deemed by many as “useful,” she was able to give us her love and to call each member of my family to a deeper discovery of themselves as persons through a mutual giving and receiving of ourselves.
This week marks one year since her death last February. It is in grateful memory of her that I recognize the importance of older persons in the life of the family and of society as a whole, and of promoting projects and activities that grow intergenerational solidarity. I value the family as the first school of personhood and the fundamental unit that enables social function and development. It is crucial to give families the place of primacy in development programs so that the formation, education, care and mutual responsibility of all persons can begin at the earliest stages of development and continue to the end of life.
Gabrielle, 24, USA.