Close to the people I serve
Dr Caruana is Parliamentary Secretary for the Rights of People with Disability and Active Ageing
We face the stark reality worldwide and our country is no exception, therefore we commit ourselves to doing all it takes to deal with the challenge. Demographic trends anticipate that by 2030 Malta will move from having the current four working-age people for every person aged 65-plus to a ratio of two to one.
In 2013 the Labour Government included in its Cabinet the first Parliamentary Secretariat for Active Ageing. It was meant to emphasise the government’s commitment to a renewed policy discourse on ageing welfare. The government immediately embarked on a vigorous restructuring of a national ageing policy, one that shifted its focus from ‘elderly care’ to ‘active citizenship’ issues.
Active Ageing Annual Award
The policies and strategies established by this government in its first three years are bearing fruit. Well before international recognition, we can savour the success levels in everyday life across both Malta and Gozo. The record number of 24 nominees for this year’s Active Ageing Award is very significant and, as selection committee chairman Prof. Charles Borg noted, it showed a wider variety of activities where our older people are fully committed.
The voluntary dedication in this important sector of the population is well evidenced in this year’s winner – 71-year-old Joe Bartolo, co-founder of the philanthropic Talent Mosti society which he has ably led through thick and thin since its inception 33 years ago. Overcoming family and health challenges, Mr Bartolo has all along been the anchor person to a dynamic group. Through his constant work with other members, he has combined culture with philanthropy and expanded the reputation of their iconic hub from its local fame to international dimensions.
The commitment shown by all 24 nominees is clear proof of our initiatives which many older persons are actively involved in and taking leading roles in society, something which endows them with a real sense of empowerment and autonomy.
Further learning for life
I felt honoured this week when I addressed hundreds of elderly students at the launch of the academic year of the 23year old University of the Third Age. While stressing the importance of this institution, I highlighted the fact that, apart from its educational purpose, it helps those attending to build new friendships and, by sharing experiences, attain a wider and more fulfilling overview of their later years.
My Secretariat’s financial contribution to this academic body is further strengthened through their Cottonera premises and the one we had helped set up in Mosta only a year ago. Student numbers have now risen to over 700. The basic principle of life-long learning and better quality of life is complemented by the transformation of old and newly opened day care centres into learning centres and direct support to local councils in upgrading their own programmes.
Our endeavours during the last year, particularly induction courses in information technology, have gained Malta a third placing together with Sweden, among EU countries, proving that our elderly are actively involved in the social media.
Wellbeing in retirement
The past week has also given me the opportunity to address the “Wellbeing in Retirement” conference organised by the President’s Foundation for Wellbeing. The chosen theme is directly linked to the neverending policy measures implemented by the Parliamentary Secretariat responsible for Active Ageing, all of which are meant to improve the wellbeing of incoming and present retirees.
In itself, the National Strategic Policy for Active Ageing is premised on active participation in the labour market, social participation, and independent living. It warrants that economic policies contribute towards promising levels of older workers, whilst augmenting levels of social participation in later life. It also aims at supporting older persons to live in dignity and participate in society, while enjoying extended healthy life years.
Although not fully publicised, pre-retirement learning programmes are also being run on a nationwide scale. While supporting wellbeing in retirement, all the Secretariat’s projects are aimed at a lifelong vision of active ageing as a human right of all older people, irrespective of their levels of health status.
Notes from my diary
We have this year again made an agreement with La Stella and Leone band clubs in Gozo to provide free tickets for older people to see the performance of two major operas – Verdi’s Aida and Bizet’s Carmen – later this month. This initiative proved very positive last year with many older persons showing their enthusiasm to attend cultural events of a high level. Tickets will be available on a first-come-first-served basis through our offices in Valletta and at the Għajnsielem Learning Hub for those who are 60+ and subject to the criteria indicated in the application form.
It was a learning experience this week when attending a seminar on the occasion of Worldwide Pain Day. The World Health Organisation said loudly and clearly that around 88 per cent of the world’s population suffers from various kinds of pain, with 24 per cent having to abandon their dreams of moving ahead in life. The event was an eyeopener in many ways, particularly in learning how to react as a society to support these people with an open mind and full respect for human dignity.
Over 400 older people provided a huge vibe of enthusiasm at their annual sports day – one of two annual activities which were held in Malta and another in Gozo for the first time. Physical exercise is an eloquent expression of active ageing, besides securing the best health levels. The event brought together clients from the Learning Centres in various localities.
The Service Dogs Malta Foundation this week organised the graduation of two guide-dogs – Ialta and Jack. I am highlighting the fact that, albeit known to guide blind people, well-trained dogs who go through months of intensive training can be of great personal support to the deaf, those with autism and people suffering from diabetes. Last year’s budget introduced an empowerment programme with a special fund for people with disability who need specific support to lead a normal life.
A group of older people from Nanniet Malta this week visited Parliament building. In welcoming them, I reiterated the importance of such visits to the country’s highest institutions. The occasion provided our elderly visitors with an opportunity to learn more about parliamentary procedures when we debate and decide on important matters that directly affect the whole nation. I couldn’t help mentioning that as people’s representatives we base our arguments on principles and values we learned from our parents and grandparents in our early years and on the knowledge we gained over the years – thanks to the efforts made by our respective families.
Together with the endless office work, loaded with scheduled and ad hoc meetings and planning, it was indeed another hectic week, full of interesting and worthwhile engagements that kept me as usual very close to the people I am committed – and honoured – to serve to the best of my abilities.