‘A Healing Effect’
The Rev. Sister Colette Murimbane, the manager of the nursing home, welcomed the visitors, making no secret of her joy and deep gratitude at seeing otherwise busy professionals devote time to senior citizens.
“It is benefactors like you who help us to achieve our mission as a charity,” she said amidst cheers from the elderly.
All smiles, Sister Murimbane thanked Bank staff with warm hugs and handshakes for the generosity of their money, but especially of their time. She said that in a society like Burundi, where elderly care is to a great extent incumbent upon the family, vulnerable groups like IDPs need to feel the warmth of their neighbors until they are reunited with their families.
“Visits like yours have a special healing effect on those who live in nursing homes, especially for IDPs like our residents here who have been extremely isolated for over a decade,” the highly experienced nun explained.
On a daily basis, her hands are full, addressing the many social, psychological, physical, spiritual, emotional, and health issues that affect those under her care. These issues range from stress management to memory loss, but also infectious and chronic diseases, health screening and managing disabilities. Undergarments and toilet paper are among the most in-demand items here.
St. Elizabeth Nursing Home opened its doors in Bujumbura in 1996 at the initiative of the late Mgr. Michel Ntuyahaga and the congregation of Bene Mukama nuns. It was three years after Burundi’s descent into violent civil strife. Tens of thousands of people were killed, and hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees were forced into camps as far out as Uvira, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Several humanitarian organizations offered options to young IDPs to return home and rebuild their lives and communities. For the frail and elderly, though, there were few or no options except to remain stranded and homeless in the streets of Bujumbura. Noting the absence of any formal system of care for the elderly across the country, Bene Mukama nuns stepped in to help.
Smiling Faces, Dignified Posture
The beaming faces on the group photograph which World Bank staff took with the nursing home residents testifies to the excellent work Sis. Murimbane and her congregation have accomplished. On the flip side, it is a reminder of work that has yet to be done to provide support to the elderly in the areas of health, housing, legal protection, family, and consumer issues.
For the majority of World Bank staff, the visit to the nursing home kindled the kind of moving love in their hearts and souls that development work should bring. The smiling faces – some on wheelchairs – that they left that day in the courtyard have stayed with them – a lasting reminder that the nursing home is a community where the elderly come so they can find love and the joy of living with dignity during the sunset years of their lives.
Nothing could convey that sense better than the lively chants of praise and thanksgiving the elderly started singing as World Bank staff left the premises at the end of their visit.
In declaring October 1 the International day for the Elderly, the United Nations which has also designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Day, said the commemoration should be dedicated to honor, respect and care for the world’s seniors. The UN wants to emphasize two priority areas: ensure the participation of the elderly in, and benefit from, development; and improve their access to quality health systems and food security. According to the United Nations Development Program, the number of people aged 60 and above will increase fourfold worldwide, from 600 million in 2000 to two billion in 2050.