Ageism is a real problem in all societies, as the elderly and senior citizens often face economic and social marginalisation. The manifestations of this form of discriminations differ across societies, as in some societies respect for the elderly is engraved in their cultural codes. In others, the elderly are deemed as old fashioned and their judgments are deemed unreasonable. One of the main forms of marginalisation facing the elderly in Palestine is a considerable lack of public and private funding in relation to homes for the elderly. This lack places pressure on organisations supporting the elderly to continue working to provide for their target group. Al-Rafah Social Care, meaning welfare in Arabic, is currently one of the leading charitable organisations providing Palestinian elderly in Ramallah with support services that focus on their well-being.
The two Palestinian women, Ms Khawala Alkurd and Ms Sarah Nasser Eddin, who co-founded al-Rafah Social Care in January 2009, felt the need for such an initiative within the Palestinian community. The co-founders aimed to create an organisation that does not only provide shelter, but also a home where senior citizens feel safe and loved. In their own words: ‘we are aware of the vulnerability of the elderly in our community and society, so we decided to establish a home, where the elderly live with dignity and respect. We make sure that our residents are comfortable, and we always try to make they adjustment to their environment smooth’. Initially, the initiative aimed to create a safe space for the elderly, however, the initiative developed into a home for people with physical and mental disabilities, including cases of Alzheimer and dementia. Those cases are considered difficult to deal with, and al-Rafah’s ability to attend to such needs distinguishes it from many others in the field. Al-Rafah provides shelter in some cases for women who faced abuse. For instance, a 24-year old woman with a physical disability was admitted to al-Rafah. The woman’s family was not able to care for her, and the woman’s life was at risk as her father had physically and sexually abused her on a number of occasions. During an interview with the co-founders they stressed that they have an open door policy to anyone in need of care. They stated: ‘we take any humanitarian case that does not have anywhere else to go’.
Loneliness and isolation are some of the problems the elderly face in all communities, and this contributes to their feelings of vulnerability and lack of safety. For this reasons, senior citizens homes, such as al-Rafah, are really important for their well-being. Al-Rafah does not only provide its residents with physical and medical support, but it also provides them with psychological and social support. This type of support helps them reintegrate into the community, and reduces their feeling of loneliness. Al-Rafah organises social activities that aim to engage their residents, and the nature of those activities are dependent on the residents’ health conditions. Al-Rafah, for instance, organises trips to different Palestinian cities, and also organises in house activities and celebrations, such as national holidays and even residents’ birthdays. Al-Rafah is home to 15 permanent residents today, however, they also host individuals between the ages of 24 and 94, who are in need of care. There are many services available to all residents and guests, including psychosocial support and counselling, a 24-hour nursing service, physiotherapists, and a kitchen providing organic and healthy food.
In addition to al-Rafah’s distinguished work, and their ability to provide a safe haven for the elderly and the marginalised, they have also been working on raising awareness with regards to the social stigma of elderly homes. At the moment, al-Rafah mainly depends on food and clothes donations, and most of its residents come from disadvantaged and impoverished backgrounds. Some residents are capable of paying for their residence, which provides a source of income for al-Rafah to cover some of the institution’s expenses. Having said that, despite all of their efforts and work, al-Rafah is in constant need for financial support to cover the rent, salaries and utility bills, and due to the huge gap in private and public funding for the elderly, there is a real threat to such institutions, which could prevent them from continuing their work. It is very important, to support al-Rafah and other similar institutions, for the private and the public sectors, as well as the local community, to come together to help such initiatives in order to create a society that aspires for better living for all.