Close to the peo­ple I serve

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - • • • •

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.

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