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Never too old to change…… policies

Senior Zanzibaris in the lead

Narrated by Mzee Khamis Mkasaba secretary of JUWAZA, a previous Voice empowerment grantee in Zanzibar and translated by Emmanuel Waisai, Junior Programme Officer, Voice, Hivos in Tanzania

I grew up, work and live here in the spice Island (Zanzibar). I am over 65 years old. In my life here in Zanzibar, I always wanted to do something more. Working with my neighbours, friends and family to uplift and serve my community is something that I have been doing for a long time.

I remember when I was young, back in the ’70s, right after our independence, I was elected as a secretary for the youth wing in the Afro-Shiraz Party. Then in the ’80s and ’90s, I was elected as football captain at my area, Dungabweni. Just recently in 2020, I was elected as a secretary for the elderly forum of Dungabweni.

This may be why a lot of people say I am a vibrant and enthusiastic person. I’m an elderly man who takes pride in his age. I’ve always felt like I could contribute something to my community no matter how small it may seem. That gives me a lot of joy.

I joined the elderly forum in 2014. Being in the forum made me realise that regardless of how old someone is they can still make a big difference, all they need is consistency and support from others. First, with support from Voice through the empowerment grant that ended in 2019, we wrote a four year (2020-2024) strategic plan. Then we sought out and worked with different stakeholders and responsible ministries to draft a national plan for Zanzibar. Finally, we submitted the plan to the Zanzibar Elderly Forum for consideration.

What a pleasant surprise it was to us when we learnt that our proposed plan was adopted as the national plan for elderly people in Zanzibar!

H.E. Dr Ali Mohamed Shein, the President of Zanzibar, during his speech accepting the proposed changes to the pension jamii by JUWAZA

We met with the president of Zanzibar H.E. Dr Ali Mohamed Shein. I presented our agenda to him on that day. We were pushing for an increment in the 9 USD monthly pension scheme for every elderly person in Zanzibar aged 70 and above. We considered it a win when the President agreed and promised to make an increment! As he promised, a bill was signed into law increasing the amount to 15 USD!

Before this pension scheme, which caters for people above 70 years, their living conditions were not so good. Most of them have large families, while others live by themselves with no source of income. Necessities such as transportation and access to health services posed a big challenge. Since we came together as elderly people, we fought to establish this pension scheme (pension jamii) and forum, and now the lives of so many elderly people, including mine, have changed. Through saving around 4 – 5USD per month, some people have now started small businesses. We are now part of the health council at our Shehia, and we use this opportunity to push for better access to health services for elderly people. We’ve also had the opportunity to meet with our peers from different places and learnt alternative ways to respond to our challenges.

In grey, is Mzee Khamis with other JUWAZA members listening keenly to the President’s speech

For now, we are pushing for the government to reduce the eligible age for the receipt of monthly pension of all old people from 70 to 65 years and minimise the transport cost to be paid by half, for the elderly.

My advice to fellow elderly people is to find strength in numbers. There is this saying in Swahili; kidole kimoja hakiui chawa that means one finger cannot kill lice. I call upon all the elderly people in different parts of the world to work together, to amplify their voices. We should always join hands so that we can have one voice. Together.

*Mzee is a respectful Swahili word used to call an elderly man.


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