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Australia Filipino Community Services holds 2nd Filipinos Ageing in a Foreign Land Forum

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Alice Nicolas
Alice Gregorio Nicolas is the publisher of The Philippine Times.

Janine Santos

The Australia Filipino Community Services (AFCS) hosted its 2nd Filipinos Ageing in a Foreign Land Forum last October 9 at the Deakin Edge in Federation Square. The forum, spearheaded by AFCS Managing Director Norminda Forteza, was a success in educating elders and their loved ones uprooted from their home country on the probabilities of a dignified and culturally inclusive age care. Our elderly kababayans and their families were introduced to the benefits of availing efficient aged care and advanced planning, while addressing the cultural stigma of dementia and other mental health disorders prevalent in the elderly.

The forum was a whole-day event of info sessions and discussions from different agencies such as the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, Dementia Society of the Philippines and Alzheimer’s Australia. These were interspersed with personal anecdotes and case studies of Filipinos who have experienced difficulties in caring for their aging relatives due primarily to lack of information. Representatives from different aged care facilities such as Villa Maria also set up booths to advise potential clients.

According to one of the speakers, Director of Centre for Cultural Diversity in Ageing Ljubica Petrov, there are approximately 550 elderly Filipinos in Melbourne as of the 2011 census, with the number projected to increase in the years to come due to the continuous influx of migrants. Commonly, the challenges faced by aging migrants in Australia are the language barriers and the inability to plan, coupled with the cultural stigma of dementia and Alzheimer’s that often leads to a family’s denial for help. This is being addressed by the provision of consumer-directed care and mental health awareness wherein seeking information is seen as the first step towards advanced planning which usually occurs five years ahead of retirement.

The forum was graced by Philippine Consul to Victoria Felix Pintado who delivered the message of President Benigno S. Aquino III, commending the efforts of AFCS in “helping our kababayans build their lives and establish their footing in their adopted countries.” In his message, President Aquino also extended his invitation for the aging Filipinos to embrace the possibility of coming home to a ‘more empowered, equitably progressive Philippines’ and retiring there. An open forum was held by the Senior Emigration Officer of the Commission on Filipino Overseas Paul Avecilla to discuss more on that option.

From the perspective of the workforce, speakers such as Raul Hernandez, Chief Operating Officer of the Australian Centre of Further Education (ACFE) gave an insight on the importance of culturally competent aged care workers. Dementia programs offered by the Filipino Community Council of Victoria (FCCVI) and AFCS were presented to the audience as well, as part of the many options for a well-lived retirement. Activity groups formed by such programs provided entertainment for the attendees such as The Young Generation Seniors Club Bamboo Band, the Hope of Life Choir, the Young Generation Senior Citizens Bell Choir and the Damayan Seniors Choir.

The hurdles of ageing in a foreign land may stretch beyond the individual cultural adjustments one must adopt, towards the broader community addressing the stigmas of mental disorders that comes with aging and availing aged care services. A great leap towards overcoming these hurdles is to inform and properly educate the ageing population and their loved ones that a well-lived retirement is part of a well-lived life that is made by well-informed choices.

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