Advice to seniors – how helpful is it?

What are the dominant themes of advice to seniors? Keep active! Eat right! Get a good night’s rest! Be positive! Have a purpose! Save your money!

I am somewhat cynical about all the advice streaming at seniors of which I am one.

First of all the advice-givers have little idea about what constitutes a senior This illustration depicts an old womanand a lot of this advice targets or perhaps more accurately spreads to people anywhere from 55 onwards. There are vast differences between young seniors, middle-aged seniors and senior-seniors and the variations in-between.

Take inclinations to travel by seniors, for example. Young seniors are hard to distinguish from their even younger counterparts. Many have lots of energy for moving around, hiking, camping, and dealing with the deprivation of camping out, for example. This younger group, aged 55 to 65, also have money or can take financial risks because they are still earning and at a higher pay than earlier on.

The 65 to 78 year olds are a different kettle of fish when it comes to travel. They vary a lot in ability and energy level. Trips which require less physical energy suit them better. They are more budget conscious and may need to take into account some kind of ailment slowing them down. They still enjoy travel but express concerns about cost and insurance. They run ‘what if’ scenarios in their minds but still look forward to the boat or bus tour in a far away place.Group of old people walking outdoor

Then you have another growing demographic of people age 79 and on until their end. Almost everyone in this group is struggling with pain or a minor or major disability. They react more slowly. This is the group that may still like to travel but, because of cancer, heart issues and other debilitating illnesses have to think about ‘what if’. Many things can happen, and travel insurance companies know this and reflect it in their policies, making travel impossible for some because of cost or because they can’t get insurance. Traveling closer to home or no travel becomes a common backup.

Advising all seniors as if they are just one group is not very helpful. For example, suppose we are all walking on a continuous moving sidewalk like you find at the airport. At first and for many years you don’t even use the moving walkway, preferring to go faster or keep fitter, by avoiding them. Then you begin using it, but walk quickly nudging your way past others. Then there comes a time when you appreciate the rest – no walking. – perhaps giving the painful back or knee a rest. Then you get to the stage where you would rather be in one of those airport people carriers.


As seniors, 55 to the end, we are all in the seniors space but our needs differ hugely as we age .
Advice-givers push us to participate in life through exercise or routines which are no longer pPeople doing flexibility exercisesossible for many.

There are many programs purported to help you live longer and happier . But each of us is different and we know that we have limits. We might be able to follow some of the recommendations and it may help us live better.


Being a senior is an ambiguous time with a large number of losses and times of grief. Many of us in our careers have experienced the loss of moving on from one job to another, or even the loss experienced by moving up the corporate ladder which often cuts you off from valued friendships where you worked before. We lose money sometimes through bad real estate or investment decisions which you didn’t think were bad at the time. Family grows up – another loss of the times when your child or children were there to share life together. A good result is for your children to move on and create and live their own lives, not necessarily cut off from family, but no longer there in the day to day sharing.

But being a senior brings even greater and deeper losses. Of course, everyone is different, and we all cope in our own way with these losses. Many people just deny any problems or concerns with changes happening to them or around them. But these same people show their sense of loss in their behavior, or depression or emotions.femme senior en souffrance

What kind of losses are the most common as we move into the senior years. Work eventually comes to an end and for many it has been the dominant reason for being. Maybe it doesn’t have to end or can be strung out with part-time work or consulting. But it is an area of major unresolved grief particularly for many men. Women less so, because their lives have had other components that they can continue to engage after they retire such as attention to family, activity with friends, and even maintenance of a home. Men share in this increasingly, but women appear to be better at making the adjustment into becoming a senior.

What other losses do seniors encounter and at what stages do they encounter them? There is much crossover from stage to stage, age to age, because of the variability in people. The people who advise us, don’t take this into account enough, in my view. They tell everyone to get out there and exercise. But this is not helpful advice for many people whose health dictates limits to what they can do. This can lead to the opposite effect to what the advisor wants to accomplish. Instead of inspiring people to become more active, he or she makes them feel less worthwhile or deficient in some way because their body is simply not up to all the recommended activity.

But even people who are able to follow this advice, they may not chose to or want to. Is this their loss? There are many people, and they are all around us, who have activities of body or mind that don’t include pushing themselves to be more fit. As I write out these thoughts, I am reminded that I could be on the treadmill or out for a walk. But actually I prefer to do what I am doing. If I am not fit, it is claimed, I will be more prone to health problems, even an earlier death. But I may have some things I like to do that take time and my kind of energy. This is my choice. It might even be to be passively watching TV or a movie, or pursuing low energy but very interesting puzzles or games I do myself, or in competition with others.Asian senior woman back pain


Seniors, as they grow older, generally become less able to do what they once were able to do. Take a typical day. A younger person at work, at home with family, in leisure pursuits, in social activities or “doing good,” often has the energy to do it all, while a senior much less so. The senior needs to pick his places of interest and they become narrower and narrower with each advancing decade or in the very advanced age, year by year, or month by month. There are always exceptions, and unfortunately it is the exceptional person who seems to be able to keep everything going at fever pitch well into his advanced and senior years, who is pointed out as the example for all seniors. Why can’t you all be like this guy or gal?

Old woman feeling stomachache outsideWe can’t. Maybe we don’t want to. Health issues increase with age from one nagging issue to multiple issues facing a person, some of which can be very serious and even life threatening. People generally don’t want to die. Again there are exceptions. But even the person living in the poorest of circumstances and maybe with problems with drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, or addicted to gambling, still wants to keep on living to some normal end. The advice giver, particularly the exercise pusher, doesn’t understand, or chooses not to, that many seniors, progressively, have aches and pains; problems with knees, hips and shoulders, and feel frustrated by their lack of ability to engage in activities they previously enjoyed. This can be a major source of grief.

For myself, I wonder if I can go on a hike with my grandson this summer with my knee being in such bad shape. People suffer the loss of treasured activities as aging takes its toll.


If I was advising seniors, as a senior, I would take this general approach.
First, I would get rid of the words “advise” and “advice.” This rings too much of telling someone what they should do. We can be friends with –or listen to, – ask questions, or reflect on what the other person has said. No one changes because you tell them what to do.
Old man storiesSecond, Perhaps I will share different experiences, and maybe we can share these with each other. But this also presents its own difficulties – too much story-telling; going on-and-on; boring the other person through endless talk.
Third. Even to seniors, it does become tiresome to continually talk about ailments, which typically are top of mind with seniors. This is a dilemma. You can’t deny the obvious and the real need many people have to express their worries about health, whether physical or mental. But on the other hand, such discussions end up, for the most part, being circular and you end up where you began. Nevertheless something you suggest or that is suggested to you, might actually be helpful and useful.
Elderly couple embracing on the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli (Tuscany)Fourth. Reflection can be healing. (But remember the trap of going on-and-on.) Recalling past experiences, triumphs, and joys can remind a person that he or she has had an interesting life. Helping someone to think more broadly about earlier experiences can be a good thing. The danger: that the person is tied to negative experiences that he or she keeps reiterating. This is not helpful, but the opposite.
Fifth. Talking about tragedy can be difficult, but some seniors get better at it, and by helping or allowing, or encouraging a person to talk about a tragic event, or their own death, can be positive. We are not alone. We are all on the ship of life together, and lebenserinnerungen eines mannespersonally suffer very many of the same great losses and grief, and we have fun and laughter which add to our strength to be more fully alive.
Sixth. As a senior in contact with other seniors, I have the opportunity to observe, and from this observation, I can be helpful. A person who is obviously “down in the dumps” can be helped by someone acknowledging this with them, and leaving open the opportunity for the person to deny it. But sometimes such an observation will open the floodgates of words and emotion, which you would not otherwise know about. Others may observe my behavior or emotion, and comment on them. I now know a bit more about how I am presenting myself to the world – maybe I don’t like it. We can talk about it.
Seventh. I need to live in the moment, and encourage others to do the same. There is nothing more precious than what is happening right now. I am alive to observe it. You can’t judge it, at that moment. I have lots of regrets from the past and anxieties about the future, but “right now” everything is good and in its place.

Serious Senior Woman With Adult Daughter At HomeMy bit of advice to those who would advise seniors, is to back off. Each one of us is an individual living his or her life uniquely and for the most part, the only advice that really counts is the advice one gives oneself from one’s own reflection and thought.


I have had the opportunity to visit seniors’ apartments or residences. These are typically housing the oldest group of seniors. Many are modern with excellent space, good meals, and a wealth of other activities the senior can take part in. They have moved from regimented times for meals, to more flexibility, and less structure so, for example, you can sit wherever you wish in the common eating area.

There is a recognition that some people are going to decline physically and/or mentally while living in a seniors’ facility, and provision is made for people to transition into facilities within the same complex where they can get more attention and care.

One staff problem often seen in these same seniors’ homes for the very elderly is the demeaning way that staff will deal with the residents. A person who was an equal with others is now addressed by a staff member as “dearie,” or “love” or they are patted on the shoulder or made to understand and feel that they are old and weak, and need to be treated like children once again. Some seniors strike back at this by requesting to not be addressed in this way, or touched in a condescending way. Not understanding the reaction they set up in their older client, the staff take offence at the suggestion that their approach is inappropriate and unprofessional.


Old age sets in at different times. Because of their rigid beliefs, and lack of desire to change their ways, some people are considered “old” from a very young age. As you move from your 50s to 60s and beyond, forces out of your control will cause some change. You won’t be able to run like you could, or you need more sleep. You are not considered for job opportunities because you are considered to be too old. (Of course this exact reason will not be directly told to you)

Discrimination against older people is very widespread. They are considered to be accident prone on the highway, and inflexible and unable to learn new technologies. Their health is thought to be marginal even when it is not. They are thought to have lost their keenness in speech and how they behave. One view of the nature of prejudice asserts that the prejudiced person spots a problem with a person in a group (like the elderly) they are biased against, and generalizes this deficiency to all in that group. On the other hand, when they see behavior by someone in that group which doesn’t match with their bias, they consider it to be an exception believing their prejudice to be the dominant truth.

The Bottom Line: older people differ a lot one from another in their capabilities and level of decline. They need to be treated individually, and not force-fitted into a category or categories due to their age. Advice, counsel, and help for an elderly person should be in keeping with his or her want or need. In the case of the very elderly – many will need support to move around and carry out the basics of life.

People in middle stages of old age can still enjoy and participate in much of what the world has to offer. They should be left to figure things out for themselves or to seek out the advice they need. Self-help and help from within their own group works better than institutional care.

People in early stages of old age have to come to terms with the many losses including decline in health and physical ability, job loss, family losses (“the good times are gone; it’s time to be movin’ on”), and declining interest in the changes taking place in society. The good tiImage result for Old People Complaintsmes were the old times.

People who purport to tell seniors what they need to do to improve their life should do a lot more research before pushing out their advice. Who is a senior? Why is he or she any different than the rest of society? What have you got to teach them? Don’t turn your efforts of advising seniors on making life better into a list of common and universal ways that seniors can improve their lives. There are no common ways; each must figure it out, and seek out counsel when they need it.


All of the information above is subjective and based on the author’s personal thoughts and conclusions from experience and observation. There is no specific research or data to back up the views and opinions expressed.
TO CLOSE: some stats from StatsCan; (from A Day in the Life: How Older Canadians Spend their Time: from Insights on Canadian Society (Catalogue number75-006-X))

“the proportion of the population aged 65 and older is expected to account for almost one-quarter of the overall population by 2031.”

“Other types of activities are also important in the lives of seniors. About three-quarters of senior men and women engaged in “active pursuits” in a typical day, which includes activities such as socializing, volunteering, walking, doing sports or cultural activities, and active uses of technology”

“Older seniors spent more time on passive activities (for example, reading and watching television), and also slept more than their younger counterparts. Other activities, such as using technology, were less prevalent among older seniors. Among seniors aged 75 and older, 22% used technology in a single day (general computer use, video games, Internet), compared with 33% among those aged 65 to 74.”

Labour Force Survey estimates (LFS), retirement age by class of worker and sex

Average Retirement age in Canada is 63.6 years and the Median 64.1 years.
Public Sector employees retire about three years earlier than Private Sector employees and self-employed people retire later, on average at age 68.



What is the ideal way to live your life?  There is no ideal, but some people feel they have an answer for themselves, an answer that works for them.


Some talk of living a life where they are able to do many things, always keeping things in balance.  That means having enough time for family, work, fun, exercise, community involvement and personal development.  Balance over a longer period of time, may include trips to visit family or taking a week or two to visit far away places, or taking off time to take a course or to visit a spa or fun place.

But living a balanced life, however it is described, is not for everyone.  To really accomplish a goal often requires going overboard in a particular area.  You need the time to concentrate on the goal, and in the process you become unbalanced.  But this may be the very thing you need to do.

I decided I needed to uptick my knowledge in the area of counseling and psychotherapy.  It was just an interest; I had no plans to use the knowledge in a professional sense.  So, I signed up for an online course at a major University that offers what I wanted. It was a course for credit which added to the demand.  I took extraordinary amounts of time reading, studying, writing papers and adding information to the course’s portal.  I learned a lot; and that was all I wanted to do.

It did not add balance to my life; instead, the opposite.

Attempting to live a balanced life to meet your own needs and the desires of others is a good objective, but may not allow the opportunity you need to go off the grid, to put in much more time at something that is important to you- whether it is for a short time, or for months or even years. Once started on a major, interesting, time-consuming project, it is hard to give it up.


We expect our children to learn and grow.  We want that for them.  But should it be something we all aspire to as we go through our lives.

For some It is a guilt trip.  I should be reading this; or improving in that; getting fit or fitter; or building on my skills at cooking, carpentry, repairing, computing, writing.  Learning new skills or increasing knowledge in an area is something we do in a world which is changing exponentially every day and we can’t keep up in our knowledge about it.  Some people try to keep up with it, while others just want to pick off an area or two to pursue.

man and woman working on computer royalty-free man and woman working on computer stock vector art & more images of computer

There are many people who seem to have little or no interest in personal growth.  They are satisfied with the status quo as they experience it, and demands that come at them to expand their knowledge or think of things in new ways are threatening to them.  They don’t want to know about it.

A friend of mine tells me about someone he knows who has a good job, and spends great amounts of his discretionary time at a bar.  He enjoys the camaraderie; the sense of security that comes from not experiencing new things or even new people.  Should we be critical of the many people who live like this?  Maybe we think they should be contributing to society or wanting to grow their knowledge and talent.  But we know little of the mind of the person who prefers to be part of a never changing scene where things are predictable.  In a world where so much is unpredictable, maybe this way of living stabilizes the lives of those who follow it.


I am amazed at the number of people in our society who are collectors, and spend a lot of time filling this desire to have a major, organized collection of some things – music, hockey cards, books, stamps trips, coins, even friends  – the possibilities are unlimited.  I tried to buy records over the years, then later CDs that we liked.  Being somewhat disorganized on this front, I find my “collection” is now all over the place; in our home, at the cottage, in both cars and stored in different places.  I even tried to organize them a bit by taking them out of their cases and putting them into master cases which I thought would be handy for traveling.  It never worked out.  It added to the confusion because now I have my music separated from their jackets.  I continue to have a very disorganized music collection.  It is fortunate for others, that they have just the opposite experience.  But at what price?  It takes a lot of time and determination to perfect that collection, and then when you want to share it with others, they don’t really show the appreciation you are looking for.

We visited an old friend who quickly pointed us to his outstanding collection of music and the exceptional way he had everything organized.  He even played a few pieces for us which we did enjoy.  He gets a great deal of satisfaction out of his excellent music library as he should.

The time taken to organize everything, is time that is lost in the potential pursuit of other opportunities.  But not to the well-organized person; to him or her it is the way one should live their life.  We should be organized and orderly in all life’s activities.

What else can we say about the organized person?  They may be judgmental about those who can’t seem to get organized.  Being over-organized like everything else can become an obsession and lead one away from pursuing interesting, but disorganized pursuits.


I don’t really know how to describe the large number of people in our world who are overwhelmed with its demands.  They have difficulty making and keeping friends because they are living so much of their life inside themselves, absorbed in past mistakes or relationships that went wrong, that they can’t seem to break out of, to re-form their relationships with old friends or to gain new friends.

Running Man,Network connection turned into, vector illustration. royalty-free running mannetwork connection turned into vector illustration stock vector art & more images of change

These people are further victimized by those around them who want to help, but just don’t understand the depth of their inward pain.  People like this are seldom willing to change their ways and it is hopeless to push solutions on them.  They will reject them outright by quickly telling the helper that they have tried that, or something close to it, and it didn’t work.  Sometimes the necessities of simply living will get people in this situation to try some other options.  And sometimes they just don’t change – ever.

Some people have troubled backgrounds from early childhood problems, or with alcohol or drug abuse, or marginal health.

On the other hand there are many of us who are simply introverted.  We live our lives inside our heads, and don’t need the external communication and stimuli that the extroverted person does.  These same people are sometimes classified as having a problem which has driven them to draw into themselves.  But as many of us who are introverted would vouch for, we simply don’t need as much external stimuli and truly do value the time just being with our own thoughts and personal pursuits.

Whether people are unhappily withdrawn or just introverted, we can think of these people as the INWARDS happily living inside their heads or living their life contemplating their hurts, mistakes and problems, seldom allowing a potential solution to get any traction in their minds.


There are many types of adventuring.  Traveling the world for fun and sport; or to serve as a volunteer in a needy place; or to escape into a world of gaming, entertainment or soaking up the sun.

We all know people who see life as one big adventure.  They travel, take courses, visit far away places, and even take inordinate risks.  People like this gain their satisfactions by reaching out to see new things, meet new people, and to live in a world where they contemplate the next great adventure.  Most seem very happy with this kind of achievement.  From their adventures they have things to talk about; to share with others.  When things come up in conversation, they can often add because they have been there or just know more about what’s going on in the world

Watercolour Jumping Group of Friends Vector royalty-free watercolour jumping group of friends vector stock vector art & more images of people

Adventuring can also have a downside as it is used to escape from responsibilities, or unhappy relationships.  Often what people have to report on a return from their latest adventure can be summed in 5 or  10 minutes, as they have forgotten much of the adventure, and are left to disagree with the other person who was with them on what they really did, and what the highlights were. For the most part we are not that interested in the adventures of others.  The family slide show following a two week trip somewhere exotic is a thing of the past.  What’s left are tokens brought back which also are soon forgotten.

Another form of adventuring are the countless people now visiting in poorer places, the lean economies to help out in some worthwhile way.  Sometimes it is to help build houses, or water systems or latrines.  Sometimes it is to teach a course, or promote healthier living or start a program of assisting the very poor.  Many of the efforts are very worthwhile, but many turn out be just another form of adventuring for the traveler who wants to help.  He or she may even carry out some good works, and then turn their attention to what was another important objective to see some monument or park or interesting cultural or religious practices.  How much good is really done by all these travelers?  Typically they do spend money, and sometimes have money for specific things, such as to help fund an orphanage, or student scholarships, or to carry out a religious mission.  Unfortunately something gets started, relationships built, but in many cases there is incomplete follow through.  Major organizations who encourage people to go to these poorer places often do have some specific goals in minds, well thought out, and through them is often a better way for people to serve.

Other adventure seekers are pure escapists.  What they would like to do more and more is to go to places where they can gamble, or enjoy music, see plays or go to offbeat places of entertainment, or enjoy the water in pleasure boats or on the beaches.  For some the escape of a long journey in their car, living in hotels, or their RV and just seeing what they run into, is their preferred form of escape.

People in this category are very honest about what they want to gain in their adventuring.  They want to have fun; to not have responsibilities; to enjoy the now, the moment; without any altruistic motive.  Fun and enjoyment is enough.


There is a category which may be in decline in our society, of people who are dedicated to their work and their career.  They want to achieve in their chosen field.  They want to rise up the ladder if they are working in a larger organization in business or government.  And, if they are in a small venture, they still have a single-minded goal of doing a job, doing it well, and getting satisfaction from the process.

Many careerists can only talk about their work.  They work all the time, and when not at work, they are thinking about their work, or worrying about it.  Some careerists rarely take holidays or if they do it is at the urging of another person who sees them as burning out in their total absorption in work.  But even with a holiday the careerist comes back to work resenting the time he or she took away and lamenting how far this has set them back.

Who is this person?  Sometime the careerists could also be described as a survivor, who want to work, but also needs to work to keep the money coming to pay for their needs.  Sometimes they are simply driven people who put career and work ahead of everything else in their lives.  They also are people living in the moment, through the last e-mail, text or call and then, on to the next ones.  Their relationships are usually largely centered at their work, as the easiest and most comfortable conversations they can have are with the people they see at their work setting or with their customers.

Is this a bad way to be?  Some would say it is very unbalanced, but being unbalanced is a way most people are in their lives, as they pursue those things that are most important to them.

I think people in the true careerist category are a dying breed in Western Society.  Many people want something more than just to work or pursue their career.  They also are conscious of the reality that their time with a family may be relatively brief, and they don’t want to lose out on the opportunities to build a good relationship with their children and keep a good relationship with a spouse and the extended family


What percentage of our society is composed of people who, one way or another, are struggling, failing, constantly angry, or withdrawn?  How many people can’t get along with others? Or live in a world of abuse, whether it be of substances, or relationships, or abuse of their physical being.  Obviously these people are not generally very happy with their circumstances and they feed an army of people and resources purportedly trying to help them through counseling, exercise, happy pills, or weight control.  Millions of dollars are spent by people who feel that they have lost control of their lives.

So all of the categories I identified above, and this is not a complete by any means, are temporary.  The adventurer may only be this way for a short time, burning out or getting into trouble through the absorption in  adventuring.  The collector can get obsessed with his hobby to the point of becoming reclusive, or finally arriving at the conclusion that it hasn’t been as worthwhile as he had hoped.  We each go through stages of life and some of these stages can be frighteningly unproductive and troubling while at other times we are thriving on our latest life journey.


Many people find solace and self-understanding by getting themselves connected or reconnecting to thoughts of life’s meaning through religion.   For everyone who goes in this direction it is different.  The teachings of many religions have the same basic tenets of love and belief in a higher purpose and meaning.  The communities of people who believe also provide an important contact for those who think and believe similarly.  This spiritual or religious community can also be a place for troubled people to get some comfort and positive help in overcoming some of their difficulties.  Typically as adults we don’t change very much in our basic ways of behaving and thinking.  But, with effort, we can place new thoughts into our minds that can help us to take new paths, to help others perhaps when before we would have expected only to be helped by others.

We see people helping people all the time  in small ways – holding the door open for someone, or picking up something dropped, or giving someone directions.  We can help someone on the street by dropping money into their outstretched hat, or simply smiling or greeting a stranger on the street. The biggest help a person can often be to another is to listen to understand, without giving advice.  Or giving good advice to someone who specifically has asked for some advice.


Each of us is so different that we defy categorizations.  All we can say as we look at categories such as the ones set out in this essay, is that “I am a bit like that, and a bit like another, or still another.”  And we end thinking that really categorization has missed the boat with me.

There are many psychological tests that you can take to help understand yourself.  There is the analysis of your typical natural ways of doing things, and this can be measured using the Conative Test (you can Google it) or you can get a good handle on your emotional makeup by completing the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory.  You can also take an Interest Inventory such as is presented in the Strong instrument, which helps to tell what really interests you from a career perspective.  If you pursue your education up through college and university you will undoubtedly be subjected to testing which shows how you measure up in relation to others if you are going into College, or into University or into advanced work at University. Nowadays one can prepare for the barrage of testing which precedes some University programs.  You don’t have to go into them cold.  A popular test used to qualify for some levels of University is the Miller Analogies Test. It is really a test of word knowledge, and by increasing ones vocabulary you can definitely move yourself up the scale on a test of this kind.

But forget all the possible ways of testing to see who you are, and do your own reflection.  To do this, look at what you do each day.  What are your routines like?  Do you have any or a lot?  What are your personal habits related to cleanliness and regularity of eating for example.  What do you fantasize about?  Is it for money, love, power, or security or something completely different.  These fantasies tell a lot about you and what is important to you.  What is your energy level like?  Do you miss work with illness or do you have a lot of pain or discomfort in your physical body.  This will impact on who you are.  Do you have hidden negative areas of your behavior or life that continue to haunt you.  Maybe you need to talk to someone about these – and just see if your negativity can be turned around.

My story – I have lived a long life; was a careerist in the sense that I put a great deal of my energy into work, and not enough into family, at least as I see it.  I like to adventure and my form is to visit unusual places in lean economies or to do the usual things that tourists do with trips to safe places in the world.  I am an anti-collector, and in fact am a somewhat disorganized person outwardly and quite organized inside my head.  I am the person that some others come to for counsel and sometimes I think that I could use some counsel or release from frustrations and anxieties that I tend to keep hidden.

In our society, as long as one is contributing, is obeying the laws, and participating as a citizen, nothing more is expected.  But in reality there are many people achieving these basics, who do a lot more for their community but are in need of a lot of help to live a happy or fulfilled life.  We all have a responsibility to “be with” others so as to be a positive presence, both for their benefit and for ourselves.  This will lead us in the direction of having satisfying and fulfilling lives.
The inward pondering about oneself is never-ending.  You are in good company; practically everyone is concerned about themselves, what they are doing, thinking, and struggling with.  The next time you feel particularly vulnerable, saying to yourself, “no one really understands me;” also remember that the people who you don’t think understand you are going through their problems, haunted by their own demons – yes,  you are not alone.

INDIVIDUAL VS COLLECTIVE -The problem with the way ROTARY projects are organized

Around the world, Rotary is at work.  Money is raised and projects undertaken from a few dollars for a new wheelchair, to placing $100,000s into clean water, improving health, education and teaching people ways to be self-sufficient.702876-BPA0104[1]

This is all broken down in the Rotary world into projects; hopefully sustainable projects that are carried out at the initiation of a Rotarian, and a handful of others he persuades of its value.  There is, of course, the BIG project to eliminate polio going on since the early 1980s and almost – they say – done.  It will continue, I think, for some time  yet.


Polio Plus is the one project that proves that the Rotary world can work together on something big. I don’t know of any other Rotary projects that come anywhere near the scale of this one, and it has many elements  of the positive.  First of all it is being successful.  But is also represents a long-term, coordinated effort across the Rotary world to not only raise the money but to mount the campaigns to give the children the vaccine.

Most Rotary projects are just the opposite.  They are relatively small.  They are a little larger if matching funds are sought through the Rotary Foundation, and better controlled if TRF is involved.  But, the work on the project comes down, often, to one person.  The funds may be raised by the club through its normal fund-raising projects which are usually joint efforts involving many Rotarians, but sometimes even these fund-raisers are carried out by a small number of club members.

But the carrying out of a project usually gets down to a unit of one.  1330331-Smiling-knight-with-sword[1]TRF forces this to some degree by requiring that only one person can work on the documenting of the project on the Global Grant site.  But, this is not the only reason for an individualistic approach to project work.

First, projects usually start up from the initiative of a person who sees the need and brings it forward, and then is told or hinted at, that if it is to go forward they have to run with it.  Everybody is busy.

If the project is in a faraway country, where contact is needed face to face with the Host club members who will take it on, the travel allowance is only available for one person to visit.  Others can go – but you have to foot your own bill.

There will be a committee struck for the project, required by TRF, but it still comes down to one person.  The other members of the committee usually know, with exceptions, that they are only there if there is a massive breakdown and the original champion can’t continue.  Many times projects simply die on the vine when this happens.

While we can organize on a global basis to defeat Polio, we can’t seem to put together any collectives of people who will really understand and collectively carry out a project.  This, of course, is an overstatement as I am sure I can be proven wrong in the case of many projects.

The way we  do projects in Rotary stimulates the “power of one” approach.  The problem with this individualistic approach is that only those with the attributes of taking initiatives and being good promoters with some charisma to  go with it, get to be involved in project work, and this is a small demographic within Rotary.  If we devised ways of insisting on a collective approach we are more likely to pre-think the project more carefully, understand what it involves and know in advance the skills that will be needed for the project to be successful – skills of coordination, grant-writing, financing725924-027cSS[1]

548880-tn_occupation147[1]sustainability, etc.  Instead of one person attempting to do it, and be it all, many people are involved, and in the process many Rotarians are getting satisfaction as part of a team that is getting a project done.
702075-1004occupations006[1]On the negative side, it is perhaps a disappointment to the person who likes to have the accolades for having done it all. But, perhaps this can be sacrificed to have better projects with more experience and skills involved in undertaking them.  A move from “I” did it, to “we” did it.544245-tn_Music-09-12-04_006[1]

But, I think this is something that Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation needs to think about.  How could they incentivize clubs and districts to have true collectives of Rotarians carrying out projects where many skills are brought to bear, and no one person is totally burned out by being the only one doing the work, and the only one with the stress and worry about the project on her or his shoulders.

This needs more than pronouncements on high.  It requires a look at the Global Grant system for example, to build in encouragement for a group of Rotarians to be really involved.  It may need a look at the travel grant process to encourage a team to visit a project, each with different issues to look at.    It is really too much to expect a project Lead to think of everything.  And in the case of those who are not very good in some aspects, it is wrong to force fit them to do things that they will do poorly.  The system could use a re-think.




Micro-credit – Turns the world around – but does it have problems?

I was thinking about micro-credit and how the promotors of basic micro-credit programs have what they think is a persuasive argument. “We get 95% (or more) of our loans completely paid off. Isn’t this reason enough for funders to be satisfied with their investment?” But when you think a moment about this argument, then intuitively you realize that one of the key reasons for such high levels of reported success is that the program is not really targeted at the poor. It targets people who are “safe”, being at a higher level of “poor”, and who have a greater sense of responsibility and want to make a success of whatever business or venture they are getting funding for.

The meat man
THE BUTCHER – micro-loan recipient

But there are a huge number of people in the world, particularly in the Lean Economies who are extremely poor, lack skills and education, have problems with health, both physical and mental, resulting in a demographic that need additional support along with micro-credit loans. Do micro-credit providers add this component, or do they simply avoid support to problem people?

For promotional purposes, though, the purveyors of these schemes will find it easier to promote their fund-raising efforts if they can point to the very high repayment rates they get on the loans. It will be much more difficult for them to chase down funding if they have to report much lower numbers re: loan repayments. A whole new strategy is needed to explain a micro-credit program which is multi-dimensional with as much emphasis on teaching life skills, on training, on counseling than on loan repayment. Subsidizing micro-credit for the very poor could be a strategy. Is this being added to the mix for multi-problem and very poor potential recipients? I would hope that support for this demographic wouls be embraced and a strategy of fund development that takes this into account, be developed.

The attached link goes into great depth on some of the problems with micro-credit and its prospects. Before blindly embracing the claims of organizations regarding their excellent loan repayment records, donors should get a better understanding of the bigger picture.

Google World Bank article
Does Microfinance Still Hold Promise for Reaching the Poor?

Sustainability; Rotary Style

Rotary is one of the biggest providers of humanitarian support competing or collaborating with World Vision, Care Canada, Samaritan’s Purse, Oxfam, the Red Cross and the list goes on.   Rotary’s  long term world-wide program supporting the elimination of POLIO is coming to an end.  But there is much to do in support of overcoming poverty, teaching skills, maternal health, education and the list goes on.aids-victim-with-child.jpg

Many Rotary clubs have projects they carry out in developing countries on their own.  Someone in the club spots a need and the other club members help to raise funds, or agree to volunteer.  Many Rotarians with skills go to the Lean Economies as engineers, carpenters, teachers, and water specialists to lend a helping hand and some resources.  I have been told that as much or more than half of the funds raised by Rotarians for international projects go there, without the involvement of the Rotary Foundation.

But, having the Rotary Foundation involved can have substantial benefits through the way that funds can be leveraged.  In our Rotary District, a $5000 allocation from a club can lead to a minimum of a $30,000 project thanks to the power of leveraging.  This can be very attractive but comes with its own issues.

The Rotary Foundation has a set of principles and rules that clubs wanting to access funds for projects must adhere to. These are strictly adhered to and include a needs assessment, detailed write-up of the project, a carefully crafted budget, oversight by Rotarians at both ends of the project and a comprehensive report at the end.  It is all worth it when the project is successful and leaves behind it a legacy of ongoing effort which comes about because of the rules around “sustainability.”

Here is what Rotary says about Sustainability

Sustainability means different things to different organizations. For Rotary, sustainability means providing long-term solutions to community problems that community members themselves can support after grant funding ends. How can you make your project sustainable?

Be sure to: • Start with the community. Host sponsors should work with members of the benefiting community to identify a need and develop a solution that builds on community strengths and aligns with local values and culture.

• Encourage local ownership. It’s a true sign of a project’s success when community members embrace the project as their own. Empowering community members to assess their needs and plan projects that address them leads to the most effective projects and the most sustainable outcomes. Identify key community members who can help pioneer lasting improvements.

• Provide training. A project’s success depends on people. By providing training, education, and community outreach, you strengthen beneficiaries’ ability to meet project objectives. Confirm that a plan is in place to transfer knowledge to new beneficiaries. Collaborate with local organizations to provide this training.

• Buy local. Purchase equipment and technology from local sources whenever possible. Make sure that spare parts are available locally, too. Build capacity so that community members can operate, maintain, and repair equipment on their own. Compensate your project’s vendors appropriately so they have an incentive to continue providing supplies.

•Find local funding. Getting funding from local governments, hospitals, companies, and other organizations integrates your project into the local community and supports your project’s long-term success.

• Measure your success. First, gather data before you begin the project to determine where you are starting from. Include clear and measurable outcomes in your project plan, and decide how you’ll collect data throughout your project and afterward. Maintaining a strong relationship with the community can help you collect data and also address any issues that the data bring to light. Weaving basket2

These are the principles that now guide Rotarians who wish matching funds from the Rotary Foundation.  But these principles miss the mark to some degree and as a result projects using  lucrative leveraged funding never reach the most vulnerable.

A good example:  A project was carried out in southwestern Uganda for eight years with the purpose of assisting AIDS orphans many of whom live in child-headed homes.  During the course of the project, more than 700 orphans were assisted.  They received the basic s of life where necessary – food, clothing, bedding, utensils.  Some people in the local communities most of whom live in poverty were rallied to be care-givers to the orphan children.  They were trained and mandated to take a family and oversee it, checking in to make sure the family had the necessities, that there was no illness, or other troubles.  They sometimes helped with the meals, and taught some children how to keep their tiny homes in good condition and repair.schoolchildrn

The children were also backed up by Rotarians who each took groups of children to provide guidance to them.  They became surrogate parents in some cases.  They watched out for the very troubled children and helped in very practical ways such as helping the children learn about how to grow food on their property.  All children were also expected to go to school.  School fees were also paid so that going to school was part of the program.

Some of the older children were sent as apprentices to learn motor repair, sewing, hairdressing and other skills.  .

Unfortunately the program failed to meet the SUSTAINABILITY criteria of the Rotary Foundation and it has been discontinued.

It was set in a desperately poor area of Uganda where AIDS was and still is rampant.  There was no chance that the community would be able to raise all but the most minimal of funds to sustain the physical needs of the children and their school fees.  It faltered on the first criteria – “long-term solutions to community problems that community members themselves can support after the grant funding ends.”

The Sustainability criteria are a very good fit when there are physical elements to the projects.  For example building wells and water harvesting systems, and training the people in the community to carry on after start-up, meets sustainability criteria.  This can be seen to be true for training mid-wives, repair and maintenance of wheelchairs, and training in the area of agriculture where a legacy of training can leave even young farmers with the ability to continue on.

What the SUSTAINABILTY criteria does not take into account is helping in areas of abject poverty, disease, poor education, and crime.Cooking matooke2

In my opinion, Rotary needs to rethink its formulas for support of projects to ensure that its drift towards supporting the better off poor, an easier objective, doesn’t blind Rotary to the needs of the very, very poor.



Do AIDS orphans in Uganda have a chance? A few do.

The CURLY GALBRAITH GLOBAL MEMORIAL is a program of support for AIDS orphans in Uganda to complete studies at University, College or Trade school. To date, there are 18 students in the program, while another 22 have graduated. All graduates are employed or have created jobs for themselves. The Guardian Newspaper in Uganda reports that “Uganda has the world’s largest percentage of young people under 30 – 78% – according to the UN Population Fund” without employment.George William Ssentongo in his classroomx

This Rotary program started in mid-year, 2011, with the objective of providing support to 40 students, which would mean raising US$120,000 as the cost for each student is approximately $1000 per year, which covers their tuition and room and board. Most advanced education programs are three years,

thus it is estimated that the cost per student is $3000 to complete a full program. We have exceeded our initial objective of reaching 40 students. Many students are graduates of an earlier program, now defunct, which supported more than 700 AIDS orphans living in child-headed homes.

The program is administered in Calgary by a small committee of members of the Rotary Club of Calgary Downtown. They source funds, receive requests from Uganda to fund certain students, keep track of the funds, and receive reports on success.

Ssemkula Henry

In Uganda the program is overseen by a committee comprised of members of three Rotary Clubs – Kyotera, Kalisizo and Masaka. They choose candidates based on their need, success in their public schooling and motivation to succeed. The numbers of parentless families is very high. Schools in rural areas of Uganda report that up to a third of their population is comprised of orphans. There are substantial numbers where the children survive in child-headed homes. Many of those who enter the scholarship program are heads of homes where there are several other children.


The program continues, even though it as now exceeded the initial goal of providing enough funding to support 40 Ugandan AIDS orphans in achieving their dream of an advanced education. The program will continue as long as we can find clubs and individuals willing to provide financial support. We are very fortunate that the family of Curly Galbraith, a past VP of Rotary International, who the program is named to honour, provided substantial dollars to get the program underway. The Rotary Club of Calgary has been a donor each year, and donations have come from 6 other Rotary Clubs in amounts from $500 to $10,000. Some interested individuals have also regularly donated.

This is a program without administrative cost. All fund received go directly to assist the students. At the Calgary end, Carl Smith, a Rotarian and retired banker administers the program. At the Uganda end, the oversight of the three clubs is supported by Rotarian Joe Mutajululwa, who provides administration of the program without charging a fee.

The need is without end, but is crucial to the young people who have gone through it. There have been no students who have permanently dropped out. One student stepped back from his scholarship for a year to handle family matters, but returned and completed his degree. We have moved from being largely a University program to placing an emphasis on Trade School training where practical skills can take students immediately into the workforce. The local Rotarians act as mentors to the students during their study years and afterwards, in assisting them to get employment or to set up their own shop or business.

We would like to do more. Funding is sent annually and the support for any one student is guaranteed as his or her funds are retained in the Calgary bank account for his or her entire program, until needed each year. Since the funds are sent in US$, an amount is also set aside by the committee to ensure that currency fluctuations are taken into account.

Some Rotarians remember Curly Galbraith who died in 2010. He was an exceptional Rotarian with a tremendous interest in child and youth programs. He played a key role in the formation of the Stay-in-School program which has now taken root across the country. We see this as the type of program Curly would have wanted and supported. We thank Doris Galbraith for taking the initiative which led to the development of this program.

Anyone interested in supporting the program:
Cheques are made out to
Rotary Club of Calgary,
Community Service Fund (CGGM)
#305, 105-12th Avenue SE
Calgary, AB T2G 1A1:
Tax Receipts are available for Canadian donations


I have visited India, Central America and Africa and spent time visiting projects – mostly Rotary Club projects.  Have also had a hand in raising funds and helping to administer some very interesting projects.  Water is a big issue wherever  you go.  Both retrieving it, and cleaning it up.  Also, making a living is another big problem and the work being done to support the poorest of the poor through micro-credit schemes needs to be expanded.

By various estimates there are likely at least 20 million orphans in Africa.  There are orphans in many other places in the world.  I’ve seen some very effective, efficient and humane efforts at resolving this problem.  The best are those which keep these children in their family home with community and other support provided to them.  Of importance, giving them the opportunity of going to school, and ensuring that adults are brought back into their lives.   see

Can we make a difference? World-wide poverty, ignorance and unemployment.