UNIDOP’s “Digital Equity for All Ages” is the theme for this year’s International Day of Older Persons. The theme stresses the need for the elderly to receive access to the digital world and help them become active participants to enrich their lives. As per the United Nations, elderly persons in the least developed countries are, for the most part, not getting proper access to the digital world. There are also legitimate cyber security risks that compromise the privacy, security and human rights of the elderly and St. Maarten is no exception.
Elderly persons are a gift to society. They are wise and have the benefits of hindsight, compared to the youth who are often impulsive and lack experience. Society benefits from the teachings of the elderly. The latter, however, suffer, not only from debilitating illnesses but often from abuse and disregard by others. The International Day of Older Persons, held on October 1 annually, addresses issues that affect the elderly and looks at solutions to the challenges they face.
As President of the Home Away From Home Taking Care of the Golden Age Foundation, and the St. Maarten Seniors Pensioners Association, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all elderly persons here and the surrounding Islands, Saba, St. Eustatius and Anguilla a “Happy International Elderly Day/Month”.
The year 2021 marks the 31st Anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP). This year thus far has been challenging for the elderly in many different ways. Getting used to the new normal which rightly confirms the theme for this year “Digital Equity”, a vast majority of seniors are suffering the consequences of not being digitally inclined.
Important services such as SZV are now totally digital as well as certain services offered by the Government that cannot be accessed unless it is done online. Where does this leave the elderly person who does not have a computer or is not that versed on the phone? Some live alone, some children are hardly around them, how are they going to make it in the digital world?
I totally agree that most of the elderly are not in a position to help themselves for one reason or another. However, it would be of great assistance if the relevant authorities schedule quarterly outreach programs to accommodate the elderly to complete their online transactions which can be scheduled at one of the centres, such as John Lamonie Centre, to interview the people who need help. This may be collaborated with other foundations in order for all seniors to become digitally inclined.
I am also taking this opportunity to thank the government for assisting the elderly with food vouchers, but based on my observation, it could have been processed through the various foundations that deal with the seniors who would be better able to verify those in need of the vouchers. I had the opportunity to team up with SMDF to ensure that the seniors I am affiliated with received vouchers. I am totally happy with the outcome as most of them received and expressed that they were very happy with the assistance. On this note I want to publicly thank the St. Maarten Development Funds (SMDF) team for going the extra mile to facilitate the elderly.
There was an announcement made by the President of Turkish whereby he indicated that elderly persons over 65 years will receive free houses, better medical care and a $300 stipend monthly. I know our government would not be able to match these great benefits that those seniors will be receiving, but the appeal goes out to at least treat our seniors better. We should be the first to be considered when assistance is given and not be discriminated by assuming what their status should be or to believed that some seniors are not in need. Once a senior presents themselves for assistance, it means that person is in need.
Once again, I am appealing to the Government of St. Maarten to honour our seniors, as without them St. Maarten would not be what it is today. They have paved the way and there are many ways in which we can repay the elderly. One way is to show appreciation via the business community whereby they offer promotions to the elderly as a form of gratitude. I will put out the challenge to see which business will step up and honour our seniors. We are also looking to the Government to recognize the seniors in the community during the month of October.
With a heart full of mixed feelings, sometimes full of joy and other times saddened by the way the elderly persons are neglected, I would still like to wish all of us a Happy International Day and Month as the celebrations continue throughout the entire month.
Continue to be safe and remember, we are leaders and not followers. Let us lead by example.