There are an innumerable number of issues that need our attention in the world. Poverty, gender inequality, and human trafficking all require devoted resources, campaigns, and activists in order to combat, and hopefully, alleviate them. One growing area that is steadily becoming more important to citizens around the world is within the field of gerontology. Commonly overlooked, the critical issue of a large aging population worldwide is no longer being ignored by the Thai public. Chiang Mai’s Foundation for Older Persons’ Development (FOPDEV) is a national network of Thai grassroots non-governmental organizations working with and for the disadvantaged older persons’ in the region. Their goal is to serve the underserved, those who are frequently forgotten or losing value within their society. FOPDEV’s mission is to improve the well-being and livelihood of those in their care as they age. When I met with FOPDEV leaders in the field, I never expected to learn about just how pressing this issue is in many Asian countries.
With a rapidly aging population, many of Thailand’s older generation members are suffering in poverty and illness. FOPDEV officials explained that as urbanization increases at an all-time high, children who grow into young adults tend to move to large city centers in order to access greater economic opportunities. In doing so, many parents and elders are left behind in their rural home towns and villages, unexpectedly left to care for themselves. FOPDEV attempts to close this gap in home care by providing training to volunteers who then serve these populations within their homes and communities. The organization seeks to partner with other like-minded NGOs throughout Thailand in areas of income generation and poverty alleviation by promoting advocacy and community participation. Rather than simply providing daily home care – which they do – FOPDEV also helps these elders regain their independence by teaching skill sets and trades that allow them to produce and sell a tangible product, earning a consistent, sustainable income. This is the key differential factor that sets FOPDEV apart from other organizations that have attempted to assist elderly populations.
FOPDEV has assured that those who are older are not under. Though they may battle socioeconomic and physical challenges, these people are not discounted as less valuable. The organization and its tenacious leadership continued to impress me throughout the visit, as I saw each step of their process and met with real clients of their program. With no man or woman left behind by FOPDEV and their volunteers, Thai nationals are given the care that they need and deserve to enjoy the remainder of their lives at home.