Giving the elderly chance to age with dignity

Monday, May 16th, 2022 00:45 | By
Ruth Bukachi addressing the elderly at a past event. PD/ENOCK AMUKHALE.

While being able to attain old age is something to be thankful for, this milestone comes with its fair share of challenges. What with financial insecurity, health challenges, lack of care and support and loneliness after children have left the nest, among others.

Ruth Bukachi, who hails from Bunyore, Emuhaya sub-county, Vihiga County is the Director, Compassionate Hearts Foundation, which has various programmes aimed at supporting the older generation. She runs the organisation with the help of her husband, Dr Fred Bukachi. She started the initiative in 2009 and currently, it is catering for over 73,000 people. 

She says taking care of the elderly has always been regarded a family responsibility with little or no government support. Hence the oldest populations have the highest risk of living in poverty, especially because they are past retirement age, they do not have physical strength to engage in income generating projects and therefore, have limited income. Worse still, if they do not have someone to support them physically and financially, their sunset years can be full of agony instead of something to be thankful about.

Overcoming loneliness 

Bukachi shares how Compassionate Hearts foundation identifies the vulnerable elderly people who have clocked 60. They are then put in groups within their villages. The elders register with the foundation and are helped to open a bank account.

The foundation deals with five major pillars. The first is addressing loneliness among the beneficiaries. The elders through their groups meet and share ideas. They share a cup of tea together, chat and dance to refresh themselves.

“Compassionate Hearts helps addressing loneliness among the elderly people. We bring them together through their groups in the villages to discuss their affairs and socialise freely. Some aged people have lost their wives or husbands and when they come together weekly, it helps fight loneliness,” she shares.

Sh10 contribution

The second pillar is the medical scheme. The director shares how health has become a challenge for the elderly, who do not have a medical scheme or access to quality health care. 

“Every member is supposed to contribute Sh10 every month through the groups for his or her medical scheme. When a member falls sick, and say is admitted, the foundation gives a token of Sh20,000,” the director explains.

The members are also helped to join National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) through their little contributions.

Bukachi who runs Heart Centre Hospital in Luanda along Kisumu-Busia road, Vihiga county, says the elderly with heart complication access free screening and medication.

“My husband, Dr Fred Bukachi, is a professor of medicine and a well-known cardiologist in Kenya. We started a heart clinic at Mulukhoro Luanda where we offer a variety of treatment services to heart related complications. We use the heart centre to offer services to the elderly people by screening them for free,” says Bukachi.

The move has helped many members access quality medical care at their old age.

The third pillar looks at income of the aged people. Every member contributes Sh10 monthly for merry-go-round and another Sh10 for table banking.

The foundation further supports the members’ table banking by giving them grants to improve on their savings in their accounts.

“With table banking and merry-go-round, the elderly are able to have money in their pockets and thus meet their needs without depending on their children,” says Bukachi.

The fourth pillar deals with emergency cases such as death. Again, every member contributes Sh10 monthly that goes into the emergency fund kitty. She says incase a member dies, the money helps to cater for the funeral expenses even as the foundation chips in to supplement this.  

“Through the foundation members can now cater for funeral expenses. I was in Hamisi sub-county in Vihiga county last week where two members died. 

“I was stunned to see how the members organised themselves using the money in their welfare account and gave their departed members a decent send off,” she recalls.

Again, the members contribute Sh10 monthly, which they save for Christmas and Happy New year celebrations. During these two important holidays, the members get money to celebrate with their families through the support of Compassionate Hearts Foundation.

Financial empowernment

The fifth pillar deals with the financial welfare of the members where they contribute money and venture into income generating activities. She says there are groups that make soap for sale, while others have ventured into commercial agribusiness.

“I am happy to say that we have many groups under Compassionate Hearts that have ventured into income generating activities using the money they have saved. Some are making soap for sale and some have ventured in commercial agri-business. I have groups in Kisii, which have started loaning money to people from their enterprises,” says Bukachi.

The organisation targets to reach over two million elderly people countrywide. To join Compassionate Heart, one needs to join a registered group  under the foundation — that is within his or her village.

The director notes that although the national government has tried to improve the wellbeing of the elderly by introducing cash transfer programme, the resources are overstretched by the high number of people who need help.

Bukachi, who is eyeing the Vihiga Woman Representative seat says she will ensure the elderly across the country are given proper social protection by championing for implementation of policies that can take care  of their welfare.

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