Community based organisations of older people are found throughout South East Asia. These are commonly called older people’s associations (OPAs) however may go by other names in different countries, for example intergenerational self-help groups in Vietnam, and older people’s organisations in the Philippines.
Older people’s associations aim to improve the living conditions for older people and for developing their communities. OPAs utilise the unique resources and skills older people have, to provide effective social support, to facilitate activities and deliver services.
They provide a valuable social protection mechanism which complements existing mechanism to improve the lives of older people.
OPAs enhance local development
OPAs are sustainable, self-managed, multifunctional organisations which aim to enhance equitable and inclusive development. They have a number of important benefits for local development including:
- Building livelihood security: Older people tend to be affected by poverty more than other age groups. Despite their own poverty and vulnerability, older people play an important role in alleviating family and community poverty. OPAs have helped older people to access micro-credit, livelihood grant schemes, and job training leading to income generating activities, thus helping them earn enough money to support themselves and their families.
- Improving health care: Lack of access to basic medical care is a fundamental problem faced by many older people. As people become older there is a need for good nutrition, exercise and mental stimulation to delay the onset and lessen the impact of chronic diseases. OPAs throughout the region have been instrumental in organising medical check-ups, shortening waiting time in clinics, conducting home visits, promoting healthy living strategies and providing health education to support the care of older people.
- Promoting participation in community life: OPAs across the region promote mutual support among older people, reducing their isolation and vulnerability by creating social support networks. These can improve emotional well-being and create shared approaches to resolve family and community issues such as providing support during times of illness and organising religious celebrations.
- Promoting participatory government: OPAs play a vital role in raising awareness of the rights and entitlements of older people and improving their access to existing services. Linking up with government service providers enables OPA members to recognise that government departments are resources for them to utilise. This builds confidence amongst older people and provides avenues for them to express their specific needs with local authorities.
- Supporting disaster response: Natural and man-made disasters, such as heat-waves, floods, droughts, and earthquakes are causing increased human suffering, loss of life and financial loss each year. OPAs supported by HelpAge International and partners employ disaster risk reduction activities such as disaster preparation, early warning systems, and relief and rehabilitation.
Older people are respected sources of knowledge in their communities, providing information on traditional coping mechanisms and/or their experiences of previous disasters, which is invaluable as part of preparedness planning.
Characteristics of OPAs
OPAs address many interrelated topics, with activities adapted to the local context. These activities span a variety of topics including:
- Livelihoods and income security, including microloans and training in agricultural practices
- Healthcare, for example regular health check-ups and monitoring
- Homecare, where club volunteers care for home-bound older people for company and support with daily chores
- Rights and entitlements, assisting members to access entitlements such as social pensions
- Disaster risk reduction, including training and disaster preparedness activities
- Healthy and active living where members participate in age appropriate group exercise
- Social and cultural activities, for example practising and performing music, dance and theatre
- Governance and community participation through submitting views to local authority on government policy and initiatives
- Self-help via support for community led initiatives
OPAs support women’s participation, as the majority of members are often women (due to longer lifespans) and women are represented on the club management board.
OPAs are financially sustainable due to multiple income sources, for example interest from micro-loans, social enterprise, donations, and nominal membership fees. Club funds are often spent on increasing micro-loans, activities that benefit members, fund raising and running costs. HelpAge’s experience in Vietnam shows that financial sustainability can occur within just two years.
Support for OPAs
OPAs have been endorsed as a social protection mechanism across the region. For example, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has included OPAs as a development initiative in the Strategic Framework for Social Welfare and Development (2011-2015)
In China, OPAs have been included in the 12th Five-Year Plan, while Cambodia has endorsed National Guidelines on the Establishment of Older People’s Associations and issued a directive for the establishment of one OPA for each commune of the country.
In the Philippines, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has facilitated the formation of older people’s associations in every city and municipality.
In Vietnam, OPAs (known locally as Intergenerational Self-Help Groups) have been included in the National Program of Action of Ageing with the target of 1,500 clubs by 2015, and 5,000 clubs by 2020.
HelpAge International, Older people in community development
HelpAge International, Guidelines for the establishment and management of older people’s associations