Elders see benefits in connecting with othersSponsored elder Erastus (right) in Kenya regales visiting Unbound staff member Henry Flores with a humorous story.
To give and receive love is a basic human need but one that often goes unmet.
The effects of social isolation and loneliness on physical and mental health, particularly in older people, are well-documented. The National Institute on Aging reported that research has associated social isolation and loneliness with increased risks for a host of conditions. Anxiety, cognitive decline, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease and a weakened immune system are among them.
An Unbound survey of elders around the world found that those who have the support of a sponsor are less likely to experience feelings of emptiness, rejection and social isolation compared to elders on the waiting list for sponsorship. Connections made with their sponsors, peers in the Unbound program and local staff members give elders a sense of belonging to a caring community.
Medical care, a resilient spirit and a close connection with the local Unbound staff bolstered sponsored elder Erastus in his recovery from malaria. The 73-year-old widower lives alone in a rural area outside Nairobi, Kenya, where he farms a small plot of land.
I am very proud of my [Unbound] office workers. They keep me motivated in what I am doing … so I never give up in anything I pursue.
The benefits of that connection go both ways. When staff member Catherine Wanjugu Muya fractured her foot and required surgery, she felt supported by the elders she serves.
“They really prayed for me,” she said. “It was so severe when I had the fall.”
Erastus remembers the elders rallying around her. “We felt unhappy,” he said. “We prayed to God, ‘Do something mysterious.’ Now she is well.”
Erastus described the relationship between elders and the Unbound staff as equal in their regard for each other.
“They love us,” he said. “They have no discrimination with us. We love them. We love our staff.”
Erastus is sponsored by Doug and Susie and family from Oklahoma, and enjoys a rewarding relationship with them through correspondence. He joined the Unbound sponsorship program in 2015.
His sponsors have been an important source of encouragement for Erastus, who lost his wife and home in ethnic violence that erupted after the disputed December 2007 presidential election in Kenya. With his wife gone and his adult children scattered, he found himself alone in a new community.
Sponsorship eight years later not only helped with food, accessing health care and meeting other basic needs, it gave Erastus a chance to enjoy life more. It was an answer to his prayers.
“If you are flexible, faithful and a God-fearing man,” he said, “God’s blessings fall upon you … and at the same time God provides you with everything you need for your enjoyment.”
In his home outside Nairobi, Erastus holds mail from the family in Oklahoma who sponsors him. Through the exchange of letters, the family has become dear to him.
35 years working with elders
Unbound is the only major U.S.-based sponsorship program to include elders, and this year marked the organization’s 35th year working with the elderly. Forbes.com featured the elder program in a story in July, and 23 sponsored elders’ stories were featured in the book “Sharing the Wisdom of Time,” by Pope Francis and Friends, which made its debut last year.
Visit unbound.org/elder to learn more about the book project and sponsoring an older adult.