In July, we celebrated Nelson Mandela’s birthday by sharing muffins with some 280 residents of three Cape Peninsula Organisation for the Aged (CPOA) homes in Cape Town: Erica’s Place in Athlone, Oakhaven Place in Heideveld, and, in Bonteheuwel, Lilyhaven. Chatting to the old people, laughing and listening to memories over tea and muffins – we made some real connections with some truly wonderful people.

It set us thinking. So many elderly people are lonely, isolated, and rarely visited. Some live in homes for the aged, others have their own houses. But their families often live too far away for regular visits, and their grandchildren seldom see their grannies and grandpas. It’s a sad situation. And it’s a worldwide problem. The older members of the world’s population of 7.7 billion people (58 million of them in South Africa) are being sidelined. Their years of acquired knowledge, wisdom and life lessons are overlooked. 

Let’s all make time to celebrate older adults, whether they are friends, family, or friends-to-be. Your random act of kindness may well bring a spark of joy and happiness to their day, and to yours as well. 

How you can help

First, locate homes for the aged in your area (that info is a touch of the button away), and contact the manager/matron to find out what the residents need. Here are some ideas to get you started (other, that is, from financial donations to the home itself, which are always welcomed):

  • Make easy-to-eat biscuits or small cakes as a treat, phone ahead to arrange a visit, and spend an hour or two sharing your goodies and chatting. Very few people aren’t happy to welcome a smile and a shot of kindness (and who doesn’t like cookies?!).
  • Provide some entertainment. If you have a singer or musician in the family, or know a small musical group, arrange a concert or sing-along performance.
  • Find out who has a birthday, who’s in the sick bay, and ask your kids, or a local school class, to make personal congratulations or ‘we’re sorry you’re ill’ cards.
  • Put up a notice in your local wool shop asking for donations of blankets, knee rugs and shawls to keep old bones warm.
  • Pamper the ladies with a manicure, pedicure, or haircut; and the men with a sleek haircut.
  • For people who live alone, make a meal, pop in for a chat with some biscuits or a cake, take out the trash, offer to run errands. When you go shopping, find out if there’s anything they need. Invite them around for a Sunday lunch.
  • A quick questionnaire has turned up these always-needed items for residents at old-age facilities: toiletries, underwear, clothes and shoes (flat and easy to put on), slippers, tracksuit pants and sweatshirts, adult diapers, books, DVDs, games such as Monopoly, jigsaw puzzles, goodies for weekly snack packs (chocolates, chips, sweets and biltong).

When you choose to live with kindness, there is a ripple effect on those around you, and it’s been proven that being kind has a beneficial effect on the health of both receiver and giver. We’re not talking grand gestures here, but simple, small acts of kindness. Spread the love…

‘A society that does not value its older people denies its roots and endangers its future. Let us strive to enhance their capacity to support themselves for as long as possible and, when they cannot do so anymore, to care for them.’ – Nelson Mandela, 1998. 

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