Abu Dhabi plans community welfare project for isolated elderly people

Pensioners will have the chance to be part of a buddy system, volunteer programmes and social groups in malls and parks

Ajman, United Arab Emirates - October 01, 2018: Portrait of Salem Al Midhani to go with our coverage of Elderly Day. Monday, October 1st, 2018 at his home in Ajman. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Retired Emiratis are to be partnered with buddies and welcomed into community groups to improve their social interaction and welfare.

Launched by Ma’an, Abu Dhabi's authority for social contribution, the project will seek to place greater emphasis on older people's role in society.

The initial trial will be for UAE citizens and be rolled out to all residents at a later date.

A survey found there were about 50,000 people of pensionable age in Abu Dhabi in 2017 - some 20,000 Emiratis and 30,000 expats.

This is an important segment of the society with a trove of knowledge and life experiences

Improved healthcare is extending life expectancy, while new retirement visas for foreign residents may increase the number of older people in the Emirates.

“This is an important segment of the society with a trove of knowledge and life experiences that the younger generation could learn and benefit from,” said Salama Al Ameemi, director-general of Ma’an, which means together in Arabic.

“Sadly, because of life's circumstances and because many of their children and relatives are working, many of the elderly feel neglected and isolated, in spite of them being part of extended families.”

The Journey of Generations will begin at Yas Mall and is linked to volunteering activities with young people from the Emirates Foundation.

The project will be expanded to parks and other areas as the weather cools after summer.

“We will be pairing each senior citizen with a volunteer, according to their interests, and are aiming for this to be like a “buddy programme” between the elderly and young volunteers,” Ms Al Ameemi said.

“Ultimately though, the biggest impact will be an improvement in the lives of the vulnerable social groups within our community, who will feel more supported and valued than ever.”

Salama Al Ameemi speaks at the launch of the Ma'an programme to support Abu Dhabi's older residents on Wednesday. Courtesy: Ma'an

An initial 30 people have been chosen for the pilot with plans to expand.

Maysa Al Nowais, director of community engagement, said she hopes families will encourage their parents and grandparents to give the initiative a try.

"The main message is that we are one community and we are one big family within this community," she said.

"If I have a grandfather, and a volunteer can help them get out of their isolation, then why not?"

"We need to go hand-in-hand and help them get out of their isolation. They did so much for us so it is time for us to give back."

Last year, The National met Emiratis across the country for International Day of Older Persons.

Citizens and expats alike, they spoke of good welfare and care but also of loneliness and isolation.

"We don’t for need anything. The UAE government has given the elderly everything they could possibly need," said 77-year-old Hafiz Riza, a Jordanian who works for Sharjah's chess and culture club in semi-retirement, said at the time.

"All we want is people to talk to us and appreciate us,” he said.

“Don't ignore our opinions, our views, we have a trove of experiences.”

Ma'an released the results of a survey in January that asked 51,000 Abu Dhabi residents - 40 per cent Emirati and 60 per cent expat - about quality of life.

While the study also showed that seven out of 10 people living in Abu Dhabi describe themselves as happy and more than 90 per cent of residents feel safe going out at night, services for the elderly and people of determination needed improvement.