Windhoek-Growing up, Alex Kanu was a naughty boy. He grew up with his elderly grandmother, who was in need of care, but he did not spend much time with her and instead chose to go about his ways.
One day, he had a call that his grandmother had fallen from the stairs and later died. The guilt was too much to bear, knowing that he could possibly have done something to save her life. On the day his grandmother was laid to rest, Kanu made a vow at her graveside.
“I promised to spend the rest of my life helping people who need help. That is how my zeal for care started,” reminisced Kanu this week. Some 30 years later, he is still doing what he promised to his departed grandmother. Today, he is the chief matron at Katutura Old Age Home, where he is responsible for caring for the elderly. Speaking to New Era this week, Kanu related how he so many times deviated from that ‘promise’. However, he always finds himself caring for those less fortunate.
Before coming to Namibia, Kanu – who has a qualification in Business Management – worked as a caretaker in several countries, including the United Kingdom and Belgium. It takes patience, compassion and love to work with the less fortunate, he says. Yes, the educational skills are needed, but the ultimate success in care work lies with being compassionate,” notes Kanu who is from Nigeria. “Care work is not for people who are arrogant,” Kanu says.
For the past four years, he has taken the time to care for the elderly at the old age home. Here, he interacts with old people from various backgrounds. Many find themselves at the residence primarily for financial reasons; people who do not have the money to care for themselves.
As a result, they find themselves at the residence. There are others who do not have places to live and so chose the old age home as their residence. For others, the complete absence of family members is what led them here.
Whatever the case may be, Kanu says that humanity is similar in so many ways. “You would find residents who are generally unappreciative and complain about everything – even if you are trying,” Kanu notes.
In addition, you would find an elderly person who would complain that they did not get food. Kanu would later learn that they did in fact receive food, as in some cases the elderly residents begin to show signs of dementia. Then you get those who will complain that the food is not enough.
But then you get the “good ones”, who make life easier, he adds.
Over the four years he spent there as caretaker of the old age home, people have come and gone. Some died, while others have relocated. “I try to not get too attached to them,” Kanu relates, saying it is for his own good. “I try not to get into that space,” he adds.
Kanu does this to protect himself, because he does not want to be too attached when the elderly person he shares a bond with dies. He also advises his co-employees to not be too close to the elderly, to avoid emotional wounds when it is time for one of them to leave this world.
Katutura Old age home is run like any other house and the old people – who pay N$200 rent a month – are not restricted in terms of movement. Alcohol is not allowed on the premises though. “But they do sneak in alcohol and sometimes some of them go out and drink alcohol,” he says.
The residence can accommodate 28 old people at a time. At present, there are 24 elderly people living there. The bigger rooms are mostly reserved for couples, Kanu notes.
On a lighter note, there are old people who come into the residence as single people and end up finding love and companionship in the process. “If people like each other, we don’t stand in their way. However, we do encourage them to let us know so that we encourage them to make it official by getting married if they are serious,” Kanu laughed.
On October 1, Namibia and the rest of the world observed the International Day of Older Persons. Kanu is of the view that some relatives abuse elderly people in Namibia. “You would find them living off the pension grant of the old person,” he notes.
Some elderly folks do not even get a chance to enjoy their pension grants, while others have to take care of their grandchildren using their pension.
Kanu was of the opinion that instead of increasing pension pay-outs, it would be better to build more homes for the elderly, because at least they will be at a place where they can rest and enjoy their limited time on earth.