DRC’s elderly people programs breaking barriers

Often dubbed the forgotten victims of most humanitarian emergencies worldwide, the Danish Refugee Council’s Syria program is working hard to ensure displaced elderly people in Syria are front and center in its outreach programming.

Ahmad reclines in a plastic chair after finally making his move in a game of chess. He smiles at his young opponent. A win seems likely.  But rather than take the victory, Ahmad encourages his opponent to analyse the last move that put him in that losing situation.

While at first glance this could simply be a scene of an old man and his young friend playing chess what makes the situation comment worthy is that it is taking place in a Danish Refugee Council (DRC) Community Center in war-torn Syria, where the elderly man is internally displaced, and the young opponent is a DRC community center friend as part of DRC’s ‘Elderly People’s Club.’ The club is one, where DRC protection project give older people opportunities to have some fun and sharing common interests and their concerns to DRC protection team in order to find the best solutions to their problems.

Targeting unemployed Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi displaced men in Syria aged 40-60 years, the club seeks to reinforce resilience through bolstering cultural identity and remind the elderly of their value by encouraging interaction and participation through provision of traditional games, traditional music, dialogue activities with youth and sharing of meals.

 “When we think about protection of displaced persons we should consider young people, women as well as the elderly as they are vital in keeping family and communities together,” said Melissa Phillips, DRC-MENA senior protection advisor. “The elderly play an important role in maintaining social structures before and during displacement that should not be over-looked.”

While elderly attendee numbers are steadily increasing across DRC’s Community Centers, reports from the field paint a worrying situation. Many displaced elderly people have been found confined to their homes opting for the “suffer in silence” approach. Feelings of isolation and loss of community common, along with an increased feeling of depression and negativity.

As the Syrian conflict pushes into its sixth year, it is estimated that over 13.5 million people inside Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance. According to the 2016 Syrian Humanitarian Response plan, some 8.7 million are unable to meet their basic food needs.

The DRC is the largest international NGO operating in Syria, concentrating on distribution of emergency required non-food items, shelter and rehabilitation of schools, psycho-social, support, education, livelihood and mine risk education activities. It operates in five governorates; Damascus, rural Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Dara’a.