Counting Thirteen Graves: finding our motivation through SALT

Since December 2011, The Constellation has worked in partnership with the World Health Organisation and Health Nest Uganda to transfer the Community Life Competence process. The aim of the partnership has been to strengthen the participation of older persons in local community responses. In April 2012, a group of new CLCP facilitators met together to measure their progress and document their experiences. These are their stories.

Counting Thirteen Graves
SALT helps an organisation learn about the reality of life from a local community perspective
Nayiga Zaam

One morning, Elders Concern Uganda toured Kakooge Village in Kakiri sub-county for a SALT visit. We were welcomed and encouraged by the community leaders - local council leaders and religious leaders - who took it upon themselves to lead us to the households of older persons in the village.

 

Our team started visiting at Gorrety’s home. Aged sixty-nine, Gorrety supports herself through brick-laying with the help of her sons. During our conversation, a visiting neighbour arrived at her home and found us there. The visitor was taken by surprise meeting such unknown people at her friend’s home. This seemed to make her very curious to know what we had come for. We invited her to join us, but she declined. Instead she made an invitation of her own: “No, I will not join you people from here. I also have a home and I enjoy having visitors as well. Let me go back and wait for you people to come to my home”

 

When our visit with Goretty was over, we moved on to her friend’s home, which was immediately next door. We introduced ourselves, and shared our reason for being in the community. She, in turn, introduced herself to us. “I am Maria Tereza, aged eighty-eight years. I was a married woman with twelve children, but am now a widow and all my children died. Eleven of them died of AIDS, then the last was stabbed by thugs as he was coming home late in the night. I have lost hope in life and resorted to taking alcohol that makes me forget the past.”

 

This encounter really touched our souls. What a tragic story this old woman narrated to us: she was counting thirteen graves for her husband and children. It helped our team to really appreciate just how much older persons have been affected by HIV and AIDS, and to appreciate the capacity of this old woman to handle grief and stress and such loss, remaining alone in this world. The SALT visit was a motivation to our team, for the work of our organisation; we realised the importance and urgency of our work around awareness, prevention and support amongst older persons. We were confronted by the great vulnerability of these men and women who are always caretakers of the sick, and guardians of orphans, and often infected themselves.

 

And yet, even in all these challenges, we recognise that the community is not without strength. Despite her grief, Maria Tereza still stood strong and was still surviving at her old age. Community members showed care in the way they often provided her with food, and visited her to show concern. It was this neighbour-to-neighbour connection – from the community leaders in the beginning of our visit, to the next-door neighbour Gorrety – that brought us together in the first place.

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