I believe that older people should go MAD! That is, Make A Difference to the world! This desire to Make A Difference usually takes hold when we hit 50. We yearn to make a positive contribution to our local community, our country or global issues. We are bursting with a lifetime of accumulated knowledge and wisdom, empathy and caring and skills and talents. And we want to enrich younger generations with all we have to offer.
When our kids grow up and become independent adults, it’s possible to embrace a whole new lease on life. We have the freedom to reinvent ourselves!
However one of the problems older people can face is becoming too ‘self-centred’ and fixated on their ailments and grievances. (I understand that many people are dealing with chronic pain and serious illnesses that require focus on self-care.)
For healthy women and men over 50, the solution is to become ‘other-centred’. We all need to ask ourselves: ‘How can I improve the world by alleviating suffering and increasing joy?’
Ironically resisting self-absorption and shifting to an outward focus benefits our own health and wellbeing. There are rich rewards in being altruistic. Devotion to others brings a sense of purpose, deep fulfilment and empowerment. Or if I can indulge in a snappy alliteration: purpose, passion and power!
The opposite state of mind as we age is a miserable option: a bleak sense of futility, emptiness and helplessness, while wallowing in self-pity and resentment, blaming the new fast-paced, high-tech workplace for throwing us on the scrap heap, stamped ‘obsolete’.
All human beings have basic emotional needs to be loved, needed, wanted, respected, appreciated and valued. These needs don’t stop at 50! Mature-aged people must play a valuable role in the community as wise elders, earning respect and appreciation from the young.
Sadly in our youth-worshiping culture, us older people are often not respected for our decades of life experience, deep well of knowledge and the unique skills and talents we’ve mastered.
Rather than complaining and blaming young people for their bad attitude, it’s up to us to be pro-active and create a valuable role for ourselves within our families as helpful grandparents, local neighbourhoods, in national organisations or venture to other countries to support those in dire need of our expertise.
We were happy living on the Sunshine Coast in Australia. With a carefree beach lifestyle, an ideal place for raising our kids, my husband and I had successful, thriving careers. I enjoyed a high profile as a newspaper journalist and popular columnist, local government councillor and in my 40s studied psychology and became a counsellor of a different kind!
And then eight years ago in 2009 we were ready for a major life change and fresh challenges. I had wanted to live in the UK since my 20s.
Growing up in Australia I felt displaced and isolated from the rest of the world, with my appetite for travelling and exploring and global issues.
So we moved to London, which was so thrilling! I devoured a cultural feast of musical shows and concerts, weekend jaunts exploring the genteel English countryside, historic castles and quaint villages and was blessed with a lifelong dream of being a travel writer, with enviable trips to picturesque destinations in Europe.
Moving to the UK was a homecoming for me, returning from the far-flung colonies where my English, Irish and Scottish ancestors, some convicts, transported and incarcerated for petty crimes, and some courageous sole migrants who left their distraught families for the unknown, untamed continent 10,000 miles across the oceans.
But we returned to the homeland to embrace bustling, multicultural West London and then the tranquillity of rural Kent, where we now live with our cocker spaniels and hens, revelling in the changing seasons.
I don’t miss being lethargic and pouring sweat in the sweltering tropics. Cosy in my coat and boots, I delight in crisp walks on crunchy leaves in the woodlands and cheerful daffodils and shimmering carpet of blue bells come spring!
You would think this pleasant, comfortable life would be enough for me. But I started to get this gnawing feeling, this MAD desire. Witnessing all the problems of the world, the suffering, poverty, deprivation, trauma and abuse, the horror of war, my heart ached with pain. The extent of tragedy on our planet is overwhelming.
I knew I couldn’t solve ALL the problems of the world so I decided to pick one issue I feel strongly about – stopping little girls from suffering the horrendous abuse of female genital cutting. As many as 8000 girls every day, that’s three million girls a year globally, are subjected to this trauma. If girls survive the shock, blood loss and infection, they are condemned to lifelong pain and health problems. An estimated 200 million women around the world live with the consequences of FGC.
Researching and writing on the subject over three years, I searched relentlessly for the best strategies to prevent the harmful practice. That’s when I discovered the dynamic charity Tostan, led by trailblazing visionary, Molly Melching. Tostan has been highly successful in West Africa through grassroots education in villages, transforming millions of lives over the past 25 years.
So in 2016 I trained with Tostan in Senegal, which inspired me with the ambitious dream of taking the Community Empowerment Programme to remote villages in East Africa; a dream that was intensified when I travelled on safari in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda and fell in love with the wild country and beautiful people.
Community Work in Kenya
Soon I will return to work in the Meru community in the lush region surrounding magnificent Mount Kenya, with my dear friend Millicent Garama, an experienced health worker, whom I met at the Tostan training.
I will help Millicent care for the adorable kids, including orphans living with HIV, and get to know the lovely ladies in the sewing project and help with growing veggies and join in cultural activities with African music and dancing and traditional food! I might even introduce the locals to my vegetarian specialities of lentil burgers and hummus!
I will share an abundance of inspiring, eye-opening, heart-warming experiences with you, my adventurous, curious readers, connecting you with another fascinating culture, transporting you into the exhilarating possibility of Making A Difference. Join me.