|Staying active: Elderly people in Hung Thang Hamlet of Hai Duong Province do tai chi exercises every day. — VNA/VNS Photo Manh Minh
As Viet Nam's elderly phase into retirement, they aren't standing still – many donate their time to rehabilitate addicts or give health check ups. Others stay fit and social. But is society giving them the assistance they need? Nguyen Thanh Ha reports.
Nguyen Thi Nham, 65, who lives in Ha Noi's Quynh Loi Ward of Hai Ba Trung District, has joined a volunteer club that helps rehabilitate drug addicts.
All the club's 10 members are retired. They are enthusiastic about helping these former addicts and their families.
Nham and her club members have worked with individuals and organisations in the district to find jobs for the former addicts.
"This task is very difficult," Nham said, and added that club members used their former relationships with businesses and organisations to find jobs.
She recalled that when she initially went to meet the family of former addict Dam Van Bo, he did not even open the door for her. Despite this, Nham continued to knock on his door again and again. Finally, he opened his door and then his heart.
"I'm afraid of being discriminated against by neighbours and I'm ashamed as I had let my wife and my two children live in poverty and sometimes hunger, because I used all our money for drugs," Bo told Nham.
"I feel a lot of regret. I will try my best to improve our children's living standards," Bo said.
|Dive in: Pham Loc , 78, of the Ha Nam Elderly Club, joins a national swimming contest for the elderly. — VNA/VNS Photo Phuong Hung.
Unfortunately, former addicts often face difficulties accessing loans because banks are afraid that they will not repay them.
"Our club is flexible, we enlist their family members for loan borrowing programmes run by the Women's Association or Elderly Association to support them," Nham said.
For instance, Bo's mother was admitted to an elderly association and Nham's club guaranteed her a loan of VND15 million (US$670) so that Bo could buy a motorbike to work as a xe om (motobike taxi driver).
"Thanks to Nham and the club, I now earn VND150,000 to 200,000 ($7 to 9) a day to buy food and pay for school fees for my children. My elderly mother's health has much improved since then," Bo revealed.
Apart from Bo, Nham and her club mates have worked to help 15 other former addicts in the ward.
Every day, they encourage addicts to give up their drug habits through any way they can.
"Drug problems are a long-term concern, so we should be more responsible, enthusiastic and have endurance to deal with it, " Nham said.
"We are happy because although we are retired we are trying to help the community," she said.
Le Duc Hien, deputy head of the Department for Social Evil Prevention, values Nham's club highly, saying this model should be multiplied nationwide.
Like Nham and her elderly club, Dr Nguyen Van Chuong, 81, still has a passion for his medical career.
Every day, he provides free medical check-ups at his house at No 7, Thuy Khue Street in Ha Noi's Tay Ho District.
After retiring in 1994, Chuong spent his own money to buy medical equipment and maintain his clinic.
Phung Minh Thang, from Ngoc Khanh Street, Ba Dinh District, said Chuong has spent nearly one year treating his back pain.
"He reduces my long-term pains by patiently checking and rehabilitating my spinal column with physiotherapy exercises, and without using medicine," Thang said.
"Thanks to him, I was able to stop using crutches and walk. Dr Chuong's methods are very good for a patient like me. All of my treatment is free," he said.
For the past more than two decades, the doctor has treated thousands of patients.
|A whole century: 100-year-old club members in the central province of Quang Nam at a meeting on the ocassion of Traditional Elderly Day. — VNA/VNS Photo Xuan Quang
Chuong said despite his age, he has never thought of giving up his job.
"I will maintain it until I die," he said.
Apart from conducting medical check-ups in Ha Noi, Chuong also performs many other charitable activities, such as consulting and training medical workers in provinces, such as Ha Giang and Cao Bang.
He also trains elderly people in these provinces about how to live healthily by using a point injection therapy and doing yang sheng exercises.
"I've cooperated with a number of other elderly doctors to implement a medical project treating cancer by using herbs," Chuong said.
"We hope more cancer patients will get benefit from our free-of-charge work," he said.
Nguyen Quoc Dat, head of the Buoi Ward of Tay Ho District, said, "The elderly doctor is very helpful for the community. He is the pride of the ward and a symbol who encourages the youth to study and work."
According to the forecast of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), by 2020 Viet Nam is expected to have 18 to 20 million aged people. In 2012, the country had 2.6 million elderly people, who benefited from a retirement salary and 1.4 million others, who benefited from social welfare.
Hundreds of the elderly have joined yang sheng, yoga and taichi clubs, while many others have joined poetry, physical exercises and pet clubs, according to the Viet Nam Association of Elderly.
Thirty per cent of the aged live in poverty or face financial difficulties; 23 per cent of them suffer from poor health, while 23.5 per cent struggle to do daily activities and over 90 per cent need help from others.
A deputy minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Nguyen Trong Dam, said every year the number of elderly people benefiting from social allowance and health insurance had increased.
However, the living standards of hundreds of elderly are still inadequate.
"We should implement the 2012 to 2020 national programme of taking care of elderly and bringing their roles into play with a total expenditure of VND4,348 billion ($194 million)," Dam said.
"The programme's main activities include: promoting awareness of people with matters connected to the aged so all of society can help improve their living standards and health care," Dam said.
|Without charge: Doctors give free check-ups and medicine to the elderly, relatives of martyrs and those who devoted their time to the revolution in Nga Trung, Nga Tien and Nga Tam communes of Nga Son District in the central province of Thanh Hoa. — VNA Photo Trinh Duy Hung
He admitted that the work of caring for the elderly in community is still poor.
"Many old people have to pay their own money for medical check-ups and treatment. This exerts pressure on the elderly and their families. Setting up more health clinics in communities to care for the elderly is needed," he added.
Viet Nam's population is 90 million, ranking the 14th highest in the world and 8th highest in Asia. Decreasing birth rates have increased the percentage of people of working age to 69 per cent.
This means Viet Nam has entered the period of "golden population" structure. It is an opportunity for the country's socio-economic development, said Prof Dr Nguyen Dinh Cu from the National Economics University's Institute for Population and Social Studies.
But the "golden population" structure also increases aging so the Government should have policies that take full advantage of the elderly's capacity, encouraging them to join in the country's socio-economic development, he said.
He added that healthy persons, aged from 55 to 75 years, including scientists, managers, businessmen, doctors and artists should particularly be encouraged by the Government.
The UNFPA has forecast that Viet Nam's population could reach 104 million in 2040, and the country would be rapidly aging by then. — VNS