I am retired, but I am not tired! This is how Christine introduces herself during a SALT visit to the Bugonga community of older persons, near Entebbe in Uganda. The Constellation and HENU have organized this SALT visit in the context of the Global Learning Festival. For five days of the festival, visitors and hosts learn from each other, as they connect and share from their life experiences. Christine’s statement resonates with me, as at seventy, I don’t think of myself as being retired. Her introduction made me want to connect with Christine.
Christine is very busy while we sit idle as we wait for more older persons to join the meeting. One after the other, older persons come and sit next to her. She then checks the members’ blood pressure (BP), and enters data in a big notebook. I join the older persons and request Christine to measure my BP. She carefully opens her notebook and writes down my personal data. I ask: “What do you do when someone has high BP?” Christine refers the person to the hospital with a special form that gives the person priority access to the doctor’s consultation. She then follows up to check the person’s BP at home. We connected during this conversation, but I wanted to learn more from Christine. I wanted to explore what was driving her to continue to work at her old age.
I followed Christine at her home with a small team of visitors. We talk while we visit her garden. She shares about the loss of her husband who disappeared on his return from Kenya several years ago, about her father, her children and grandchildren. We then return to our conversation on her activity in the community. How did she start taking BPs in the community? From the outset in 2012, the Bugonga community of older persons identified the members’ health as an area of concern, together with sanitation, exercise and nutrition. She would give advice on healthy living. Then, end 2016 Health Nest Uganda asked from the older persons’ community about who would measure BP regularly to detect hypertension. They selected Christine. HENU gave a BP meter to Christine for use in the community. Christine has worked as a nurse for 61 years and she has no intention to stop. “Chosen to serve” is our nurses’ motto, and serve I will until I die!
When I worked as a District Medical Officer in Zaire, and later as a health specialist, I worked primarily at the improvement of the health of mothers and children. Health of older persons were not on my “radar screen”. I knew how older persons could actively care for each other and for the community at large, but so far, I had not experienced it. My encounter with Christine and with her community changes this perspective forever.
But my learning goes further. Christine connected with her deep purpose in life. She did not need any financial incentives to do what she considers as her normal course of action. So here is what I take home: “If we reconnect with our deep purpose, then infinite sources of energy are available for action.” I’ll try to apply this together with older persons of my community.