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Ambassadors for dignity and grace

“Live life!” is the maxim of the 2012 NSW Seniors’ Week (March 18-25), an event organised by Ageing Disability and Home Care (ADHC) writes Sandra Beeston in the South Sydney Herald of March 2012 .
Ambassadors for dignity and grace

Photos: Sandra Beeston - Aunty Millie Ingram (top) and Aunty Beryl Van Oploo

The annual event, “the largest celebration for seniors in the southern hemisphere”, its website reads, “promotes positive attitudes towards ageing”. During the week, seniors can choose to participate in hundreds of activities, such as gala concerts, dinners, tours, fitness and computer training workshops, in order to gain new skills and make new friends.

Aunty Beryl Van Oploo, a hospitality teacher at Yaama Dhiyaan, a café and catering school for Aboriginal youngsters, is one of about 20 ambassadors for Seniors’ Week, a role that means a lot to her: “It means that, as a senior, I’m still active and I’m still giving back to the community, especially with the education part of it, and passing those skills on to our young people and hoping that one day they’ll follow their own journey. It means that it’s getting us out there as Aboriginal people as well and it means I’m healthy enough to do it and I’m active enough to do it. I think it’s really great!”

Another well-known Ambassador from Redfern is Aunty Millie Ingram, founder of Wyanga, an organisation providing help and care to elders: “Myself and Beryl Van Oploo each specifically represent Aboriginal elders and we do Welcome to Country, we talk to people about how Aboriginal people age with dignity. Beryl provides information on her cooking, and all the stuff that she does with her beautiful cuisine, the bush tucker that she has. It’s more or less a public relations exchange with everybody about growing old, so that younger people know that they can’t escape it, you’re going to get old sooner or later, and that you can grow old with dignity and with grace and still have a good life.”

Both “Aunties” are adamant that older people can live fulfilling and exciting lives: “Absolutely!” Ms Ingram says. “One of our representatives is in creative ageing and she wants people to get into all sorts of things like artworks, plays and performing. We try to get those sorts of things here, so elders have things to do all the time, and they’re not just sitting at home, out of sight and out of mind ... and that’s what the ambassadors are about.”

She also says that, far from the idea that getting older means the end of one’s working life, seniors can actually be real assets in the workforce: “I’m a pensioner but I prefer to work, and a lot of people prefer to work. You have quality people out there with a lot of experience, a lot of dedication, who can be really good employees.”

Ms Van Oploo echoes the sentiment: “A lot of senior people have a lot of talent, they’ve been there, done that, they’ve had their career. We as seniors have got a lot to give back to our country and to our young people as well.” That is why, even though she was already retired from teaching when she was offered the teaching role at Yaama in 2006, she still decided to take it on.

Ms Ingram also thinks that more funding for associations like Wyanga is needed to help elders and that there are still a lot of problems that get in the way of a good quality of life for them: “For instance, transport is pretty bad. We don’t have a lift or escalators at Redfern station, so a lot of elders don’t use Redfern station.”

Safety in the home is another issue: “We have to make sure if they’re in public housing that they’ve got secure locks and windows. Feeling safe is one of the big things that they care about. There’s still a lot to be done.”

In the meantime, the ambassadors are preparing for the week of celebration that will start on March 18. Ms Oploo organised a bush-tucker tasting for the seniors last year and hopes to repeat the experience for the upcoming event: “We made damper and kangaroo stew. They had a ball!”

Ms Ingram also says the previous Seniors’ Weeks were a lot of fun, and sings the merits of the event: “It shows them that elders can be visible and enjoy life!”

Source: South Sydney Herald March 2012 -