Joyce Kairu feted for her dedication to seniors’ welfare

After her mother’s death jolted her and made her quit affluent life abroad to take care of elderly persons in Nyeri County, Ms Joyce Wanjiku Kairu has attracted global attention through her work.

Seven years into her mission, she has now scooped the Global Ageing Excellence in Ageing Services Award from the Global Ageing Network.

She received the award in Montreux, Switzerland, on September 21 due to her services to the poor elderly persons, mostly those abused and neglected by their loved ones.

CELEBRATION
The executive director of Purity Elderly Care Foundation (PECF), which she established seven years ago, is the first to get the award in the country.

As the world observes the International Day of Older Persons on Sunday, the 44-year-old Ms Kairu will – as she has done a couple of years before – host about 1,000 elderly persons at a public field and offer them food and drinks.

She will also organise dances.

The Global Ageing Network focuses on individuals and organisations committed to changing needs and preferences of older adults with a belief that “ageing individuals have the right to dignity, equity, non-discrimination and cultural sensitivity as they access services”.

GENERATION
According to the United Nations’ (UN) Social Policy and Development Division, this year’s theme is “Stepping into the future: Tapping the talents, contributions and participation of older persons in society”.

In its mission statement, the UN indicated that between 2015 and 2030, the number of older persons worldwide is set to increase by 56 percent — from 901 million to more than 1.4 billion.

It adds that by 2030, the number of people aged 60 and above will exceed that of young people aged 15 to 24.

BEGGAR

Embracing the elderly, especially those you are not related to, is not everyone’s cup of tea.

But Ms Kairu has since 2011 chosen to live as a beggar.

She is a consistent borrower of food and personal effects, which she donates to elderly persons under her radar.

“I have been referred to as a professional borrower due to my pleadings for items to give to the old.

“But I cannot stop because God gave me old people to take care of and losing hope in that mission is not part of my plan,” she says.

DONATIONS
She takes care of more than 500 seniors in the county through home-based care services.

Ms Kairu obtains the donations such as adult diapers, clothes, foodstuffs, blankets and medicines from small, medium and well-established entrepreneurs as well as individuals who support her activity.

The community health workers in the hilly and chilly county have been supporting her with free medical services to her group.

Some of her supporters give her money, which she uses to buy building materials like iron sheets to offer better housing to the hapless senior citizens.

AWARENESS

She refers to the donors as Ambassadors of Dignity to the Old.

“My mission is to give support and help to the vulnerable elderly members of society who have been abandoned, neglected, are sick, poor, forgotten, abused, stigmatised and lonely.

“The main goal is to raise community awareness and response to the plight and rights of the elderly persons,” she states.

LIFESTYLE
While speaking to the Sunday Nation, Ms Kairu narrated how she would criss-cross the world a few years ago to attend rugby events — her beloved game.

She flew back to the country after working as a Senior Project Manager for a wealthy South African firm, having studied at Wits Business School.

The job made her afford a flamboyant lifestyle of flying across continents for work-related duties and the thrilling rugby games.

She narrates that she lost touch with her family for 14 years.

ACCOLADES
However, her mother was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 64 and she could not have time to fly back to see her until her last days.

“I became regretful that I was not there to take care of my ill and old mum. After returning to South Africa I decided to quit my job. Her death struck me,” she narrates.

In the streets of Nyeri town and back in the remote villages, Ms Kairu is known as Wanjiku wa Andu Akuru (Wanjiku of the elderly people), due to her care for the senior citizens.

Due to her services to the old, in 2014 Ms Deloris Jordan, who is the mother of basketball legend Michael Jordan, gave Ms Kairu the Humanitarian Award on World International Women’s Day.

POVERTY
Asked about the awards, Ms Kairu says they belong to the elderly, adding that they motivate her to keep doing what she’s doing.

She is planning to expand her love and care to other counties, expressing fear there could be thousands of elderly persons living in abject poverty after being neglected by their children and families.

“The world must ensure the elderly live with dignity, peace and comfort at their twilight years.

“Governments and organisations should manage and co-ordinate collaborative support for the senior citizens,” she says.

She takes care of more than 500 seniors in the county through home-based care services.

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