“The elderly are among those most affected by poverty,” said Migdalia Dopico, coordinator of the Elderly Support Programme for Caritas Cuba.
With one in five Cubans now over 60, the problem is getting worse. Caritas Cuba’s 800 volunteers and 190 canteens are responding by providing thousands of meals to 28000 elderly people.
In Perico, a village in the Matanzas diocese, Clarita is one of the volunteers. At the back of her house, an additional kitchen has been set up.
“We don’t have any electricity today, so we are using our coal stove. It takes a bit longer to prepare the 80 meals, but we are used to it,” she said. “We prepare food three times a week. Those who don’t eat here are probably going to ration their meal so it lasts until the evening or even over a couple of days. Others may share it with a brother, a sister or a child that we cannot receive under the programme due to a lack of funds.”
Caritas Matanzas director Jorge Luis Diaz Duran said, “Many young people have gone to seek work in town or abroad. Life is already hard for them, so it is nearly impossible to help the parents or grandparents left behind. Every day we receive requests for food aid from elderly people who find it difficult to manage alone.”
Those who can’t get to the distribution centres receive their meals at home.
Jeronimo welcomes us on his doorstep. Inside, there’s an old broken television, a bed, a table and three chairs. “I worked all my life as a civil servant”, he said. “A lifetime of work, yet my house is falling apart. My pension is 220 pesos per month (US $8), how could you live on so little nowadays? Without the help of Caritas, I don’t know how we would manage to eat every day.”
Ana Luisa, over 80, has made herself pretty today. Her daughter, a nurse, came to help her. On Wednesdays, she welcomes a group of elderly people into her home to recite the rosary together. “Welcome, Caritas friends, to my modest home. It is always a joy to receive visitors and to discover the tasty meals Clarita has prepared,” she said.
Catalina is also elderly. She lives alone in her house with her 40-year-old son who has Down Syndrome. “Look around you,” she said, “We have nothing. I’m ill and I have to stay in bed. Who is going to care for my son? He can’t manage alone and I no longer have the strength to wash him and feed him.” They can count only on Caritas.
In Santo Domingo, Melida Calvez and her husband Pedro dedicate their lives to helping the elderly. In their home, they receive 104 people each day.
“We really want these people to feel surrounded by the love of Christ,” says Melida. “In addition to meals and laundry, we have fitted out an area where they can come to wash. We also ensure that those who need medication take it. We organise prayer and spiritual contemplation groups, or debates on societal issues. Here, the elders feel good and this is the main source of joy in our hearts.”
Pope Benedict XVI travels to Cuba next week to Havana and Santiago de Cuba for a three day visit.
One of the beneficiaries of the Santo Domingo group call us over. “I went through the government’s psychiatric institutions. I hope the Pope will be able to do something to enable those who are ill like me to benefit from the help of the Church and of Caritas. Because feeling loved is feeling alive.”