When disaster strikes, older people face unique challenges that are often neglected, if not overlooked entirely. While many organizations are set up to meet the needs of children and younger adults, they are often ill-equipped to address the distinct needs of older people. Unfortunately, seniors are too often relegated to the sidelines, their plight undermined by their age, desensitizing others to their value along the spectrum of life.
This was starkly apparent to me when I visited Haiti this past February with a delegation from AARP that included CEO A. Barry Rand and Debra Whitman, the executive vice president for Policy Strategy and International Affairs. We were there to assess the impact of the $1.5 million that AARP and AARP Foundation raised in the wake of the devastating earthquake of 2010. Some 250,000 people were killed in the event, and more than 84,000 people 60 and over were injured or left homeless. A lot of the lives lost were adults in their middle years, leaving behind grandparents to take care of orphaned children. And yet very few resources were being directed to support the recovery of these older survivors and their “new” families.
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As we toured one community, I talked with a grandmother named Rosalie who put it succinctly: “We are mistreated. We are treated with contempt.”
We all felt a swelling sense of compassion when we heard those words. Because, of course, these individuals are not at all objects of contempt to us. Indeed, they are exactly the people we’d intended to reach when we issued a call for AARP members and other supporters to assist us in raising funds in the aftermath of that tragic earthquake.