Some 400 senior citizens have volunteered to participate in Government’s Recreational Activities Programme, which is designed to promote active ageing.  However, the concern is that no men have come forward.

That is the single lament of Senior Welfare Officer at the National Assistance Board (NAB), Colleen Walcott, who supervises the Programme, which she sees as a model that could be used by other groups or organisations hoping to implement such a plan for the elderly.

 She said the only weakness was that “we have not been able to attract, sustain and keep men in the programme”.

Ms. Walcott added: “… When the programme first started, there were a few men, but as more women joined, the men left.  It is not that there is a lack of activities for the males; it’s just that the males choose to participate otherwise.”

The Recreational Activities Programme was introduced in 1990 at a centre in Eden Lodge. It offers activities that promote mental and physical health as well as social integration, and fits in with the mission statement of the NAB, which is “to maintain the dignity of elderly persons in Barbados through the provision of a range of services that are accessible and acceptable, thus enhancing their quality of life”. 

Currently, there are 13 recreational centres across the island. These include community centres and church halls. The only parishes without such centres are St. Andrew, St. James and St. Thomas. 

The Programme provides for activities such as craft (upholstery, needlework, basketry and crochet), and puts on picnics, cruises and overseas trips, lectures and discussions on topical issues, ‘dancercise’ and aerobics, an annual craft exhibition and an inter-generational camp. 

Participants must be 60 years and older, ambulant and independent.  However, according to Ms. Walcott, there is some flexibility concerning the age criterion since persons younger than 60 can also join.

Referring to how the Programme operates, she explained that “it runs with the school year, with breaks at Easter, summer and Christmas”.  Activities at respective centres may vary from one to three days. And, the instructors and administrative support are provided by the NAB.  All other costs are absorbed by participants.  These include materials for craft, trips and other social activities. In the main, its content is determined by the input of participants.

As to how effective it is, Ms. Walcott remarked: “We are always reviewing and evaluating the programme. We always solicit the input of the elderly persons because we want them to feel involved and as though they own the programme.”

Two major undertakings that have come about over the years are the annual craft exhibition and the inter-generational camp.  “This is one big exhibition where all the centres come together and showcase the talent and skills and work of the elderly.  Within the past two years, we’ve had the inter-generational camp, since we recognised that it’s just not about the independence of the elderly.

We want to put more emphasis on inter-dependence; so we’ve had two summer camps where we’ve brought the elderly and children together,” Ms. Walcott explained.

There is room for further development of the programme. “There are a lot of elderly people who may not necessarily travel during the summer, who miss the activities and they are asking for a continuation of the programme at that time. … We’ll be looking to see how best we can utilise select centres during the summer period so that we can make provisions for those persons who are still interested in the activities and for whom the closure of the centres create a void,” Ms. Walcott  disclosed.

Elderly persons who wish to join the Recreational Activities Programme may visit any of the respective centres and complete a registration form. No registration fee is required. To find a centre that is convenient or accessible, persons may call the NAB at 426-3131 or visit its headquarters at Murrell House, Country Road, St. Michael. 

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