Homes and Hospices have become more prominent in Zambian urban society in the last two decades.
This development marks a shifting culture predominantly promoted by urbanization, westernization, and poverty. A catalyst to this rapidly developing phenomenon is the ravaging impact of HIV/AIDS on many families.
Not too long ago, Zambians would be upset by the thought of admitting their old age parents into a home, or depositing their young children into a home. The act of putting family into homes was at the time taken as an acknowledgement that parents were being abandoned in the care of strangers and outsiders, and young children were simply being given away.
In both cases, Zambians had the mindset that old age parents were the responsibility of their children in the same way that children were the responsibility of their parents. Above all, both children and parents were the responsibility of the wider society that they lived in.
A quotation from a famous Asian movie ‘Bagbhan’ (Caretaker or Gardener) roughly translates to: ‘Is it a crime for a parent that held their child’s hand when teaching the child to take the first three steps of life, to expect the same child to hold the parent’s hand when the parent is taking the last three steps of life?’
This very thought provoking metaphor challenges Zambian’s to touch base with culture and values that are passed on from one generation to the next.
Urbanization has contributed to the breakup of family values. Families have become more focused on the nuclear group of husband, wife, and biological children to the exclusion of all others. The demand for more income to cover the costs of better schools, nicer homes, bigger cars, and fancier clothes takes precedence over old aged parents and extended family. This results in parents being away all day at work while the children are brought up by maids, school authorities, and more prominently, television and peers.
The western way of life therefore is indoctrinated in the family values through continuous sublime programming passed on through the television screen. The opportunities for families to bond and share cultural values become fewer as television dictates and parents become busier each day.
The modern family therefore no longer considers old age parents as valuable custodians of culture and tradition that can be passed on to future generations, but labels them as financial and emotional burdens that need to be relegated to old age homes to be out of sight and out of mind.
Increasingly, Zambia’s old age homes are experiencing new residents that are being deposited by wealthy families that have the capacity to employ nurses and drivers to give their parents a more dignified final chapter of life if they so chose.
The terminally ill have been delivered to hospices in an effort to provide a more comfortable and manageable environment in the last few months of their lives.
The rush to admit family members into hospices has been driven mainly by poverty. In the urban townships people are poor and do not have access to the resources to provide care and comfort to the terminally ill. A hospice becomes the default choice purely based on the lack of financial capacity to manage the sick.
It is no wonder that hospices are mushrooming in townships in the peri-urban areas where the facilities are most needed.
The lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS and other terminal diseases motivates many families to detach themselves from the sick and take them to hospices. There is an appreciable amount of fear of contamination that families will have because of ignorance.
Terminal diseases such as HIV/AIDS will still stigmatize families today unlike cancer, tumours, and heart disease. The idea that HIV/AIDS could have been avoided if one conducted their lives sensibly continues to be a source of shame.
Hospices are therefore predominantly populated by HIV/AIDS patients to keep the perceived shame out of the house as opposed to the difficultly in managing a terminally ill person. Many of the cancer and other terminal diseases patients continue to live at home with bouts of hospitalization until they finally die.
It is about time that culture and tradition are brought back into the equation of caring for the sick and elderly. Our parents and families remain our flesh and blood irrespective of their age or illness. Caring for the old and dying is as natural as caring for our new born children.
The clear message is that the measure that we put into caring for our old and sick, is the same measure or worse, that our children will put in place in caring for us when we are old and sick.
Our future generations are learning by television, and where we make and effort, they learn by how we look after our own parents and families.
Published 16 November 2010