Connecting local responses around the world
The above words were spoken by Namara Arthur Araali, the founder and Director of Health Nest Uganda (HENU).
What follows is the story of an extraordinary man who has accomplished extraordinary things.
The story of Namara Arthur Araali, now 48, probably began with his childhood, more specifically with his grandmother. She showered him with unconditional love and instilled in him the love for other people.
In his quest to be of service to mankind he came to Entebbe in 2003 to work in an HIV/AIDS clinic. His focus laid on counseling, research and health education. The criteria for participating in research at the clinic were that the individuals had to be between 18-49 years old. As if older persons were not exposed to HIV and its effects and were not supposed to be sexually active! Their role was seen as taking care of children. Period.
One day, an elderly woman approached him, asking him why older persons were not taken into consideration in the research work of the AIDS clinic, why assistance was limited to those between 18-49 of age? She found this to be highly discriminatory.
This conversation never left Arthur. He thought about it day and night for weeks on end. He thought about all the (mostly) grandmas, who brought their orphaned grandchildren to the clinic for treatment. But the caretakers, the elderly, always found themselves on the sidelines. No one took notice of them.
Arthur began to ask around, trying to find organizations that specifically addressed the needs of older persons. He came up empty.
That is when he decided to take matters into his own hands: His first idea was to involve them more in the care of their children or grandchildren by teaching them how to monitor drug adherence of their young patients. In the process, he realized that older persons had other problems than just having to take care of their offspring. Very often they lacked the money to take their grandchildren to the clinic; they also had a host of health issues themselves, such as hypertension, diabetes, trouble with walking, etc.
He knew he had to do more. So he started to ask around for help among his friends but none of them were convinced that creating services for older people was an idea worth exploring.
That is when he remembered the words of his grandmother: “Let us start with love. Everything else will follow.” Inspired by these words, he soldiered on. He kept training older persons in HIV management skills and counseling, AND he taught them revenue-generating skills, such as mushroom growing, cultivating fruits and vegetables, baking, weaving, soap making and more. And in 2007, Health Nest Uganda was created.
Becoming increasingly passionate with his work with the elderly, he decided to study Gerontology. A sponsorship granted by the Commonwealth made it possible to study in the UK. Under one condition: He had to succeed in his studies. That really focused his attention, and not only did he succeed with Excellence, he received an award for his Masters Degree in Gerontology from Southampton University in the UK.
Meanwhile, back home, the older persons asked: “We would love to get into business, but where is the start-up capital? We don’t have the money to launch our businesses.” Frankly, there he was a bit of a loss. As he was frantically looking for resources and equipment to get the ageing off the ground, fate intervened: In 2010, he met Franciene. Franciene, a Dutch nurse who at the time worked in Uganda, brought him in touch with the Constellation.
That was the turning point. Not only did Arthur become trained in SALT and CLCP, but he also, with the help of Marlou, Rituu and Franciene, managed to spread the approach to 12 other regions in Uganda.
To do so, he had to bring more people on board. He started out with 7 trainers. In addition, with the support of Cordaid, a large Dutch development aid organization, he together with the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development developed the “Social Gerontology Manual,” a handbook that covers all aspects of elder care and includes the SALT and CLCP process. The Manual is now being underwritten and used by Ugandan government authorities.
Eventually, he was able to train three people in each of the 12 districts AND the “virus” has spread to a neighboring country: Tanzania. Eunice Musubika a volunteer with HENU went there to lay the foundation, and Arthur continues to develop SALT and CLCP activities there.
When asked about his dream, Arthur simply says: “I want the focus on the elderly to become a movement, part of the common culture, a culture that takes the country back to its roots of self-reliance”. Where people used to work for themselves in groups to clear gardens roads and water sources without waiting for an external help. Where people used drums to attract people’s attention to a specific issue and to find people (such as Sylvia) who are equally passionate about the cause; encouraging people to come up with their own actions rather than relying on the government to help.
And speaking of government, the Ugandan authorities are becoming increasingly aware of HENU and its initiatives. Having the government on its side may just mean that Arthur’s dream of a systemic way of changing the regard toward the elderly may just come true. He started with love and with listening to his inner voice, and everything else is bound to follow . . .