In the weeks leading up to our 8th International Conference in London, an amazing IAHSA story was unfolding in South Africa.    This is a story about the power of community and the passion that people have for caring for the elderly.    The main characters, who come from totally different worlds, are Judy Martin from ThomsonAdsett in Australia, who leads the Australian SAGE (Studying and Advancing Global Eldercare) delegation study tours and Marigold Mncube from Emseni Old Age Home in Kwa-zulu Natal, South Africa.

Here’s the story, in Judy’s own words from an email she sent out just after ‘finding’ the little remote home in the middle of remote South Africa:

Our son is on a year exchange in South Africa so we are visiting him having a holiday there en route London for the IAHSA conference.  We were out in an area called the Drakensberg Mountains and my husband noticed we were near the battlefields area.  He wanted to drive to a place called “Rorkes Drift” where a major battle had occurred in the 1800’s.  Now Rorkes Drift is not just a little town you ‘drop into”.  It is miles from anywhere and the actual drive to the town is on potholed gravel roads through very remote Zulu tribal lands.  It is literally “in the middle of nothing and nowhere”, all the more amazing we found ourselves heading there.

On arrival at Rorkes Drift, where there were a few old British outstation buildings, run down and well used, a few round Zulu huts and a few other buildings scattered amongst the gravel and paddocks, we realized we had reached our destination..  My daughter and I were walking along a gravel road across one of these paddocks toward our car when we passed two Zulu ladies walking in a field.  They said “Hello, how are you?” in Zulu and we began talking.   One lady asked where we were from, and we returned the question.  She then said she was from a town far away and that she was walking to work.  I said “it’s a very small town here, where do you work?” and she pointed to a little group of buildings up the hill a ways away and said, “I work at the old persons home”. Can you believe that!!!

I then told her I also worked with old peoples homes and she asked if I would like to come and look at the home.  Honestly there was hardly a village for miles and here in the middle of nowhere (with not even a store in the town) was an old aged home.   She showed us around! There were 2 small buildings that is home to 67 residents – mainly homeless people they have found living in the bush, one lady they found living under a tree, another in an old derelict shed.

We walked into main room where there were a crowd of about 30 old persons around a little fire heater.  She told them our names and that we were from Australia.  Our guide then mentioned that they had saved and saved and along with help from their friend ‘Margie’ [Margaret van Zyl, CEO, Pietermaritzburg & District Council for the Care of the Aged], their matron was traveling next week for a trip of a lifetime to  an ageing conference in London to talk about their home.   I could not believe it!!!!!!

I told her I was going to an aged care conference in London next week!!! We swapped names, notes, laughing, hugging and organised that I would meet her ‘matron’ in London should we indeed be at the same place. I said I’d email ……… she told me they have no computer!!!

Emseni are not for profit (obviously) and survives on some government grants, pensions and money they can raise – they are all poorly paid, have NO resources, and are in the middle of nowhere (literally).  They have a new little brick building they have just built, and are very proud of.

It made me think what an amazing place the world is and how it came to be we were at Rorkes Drift and I stumbled across a Aged Persons Home when we were there to see Battlefields?? There had to be a reason why I was led there- I must try to do something for this poor little home in the middle of nowhere.  Now let me think how…………………………………” (I had 3 more hours of pot-holed gravel roads then a long flight from Johannesburg- London to think about it!!)

An IAHSA Story

And that is just what Judy and her Aussie friends did.   Marigold Mncube, Judy and the SAGE group DID finally met at the IAHSA conference, where Marigold presented a poster session, charming everyone with her passion and commitment to care for the poor elderly in rural South Africa.

The Aussie SAGE Delegation decided to ‘adopt’ the Emseni Old Age Home and passed the hat raising almost GBP1000. They are now working out how to make this an ongoing link through both donation and support.

IAHSA would like to build on the opportunity presented by this wonderful story by establishing an IAHSA Global Community Program through which our members can link up to help those who are less fortunate across the International Ageing Network.   If you are interested in being part of this special program, in any way,  let us know at