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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: Using the Past to Re-Write the Future

By Elizabeth Podnieks, PhD, Architect of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD)

March 16, 2020

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2020! This milestone, and this new decade, gives us pause to consider what we have done, where we are going, and if we are making a difference. We know the creativity and energy of WEAAD have impacted the awareness of elder mistreatment worldwide and this is reassuring.

We were so ambitious, so hopeful, and so full of dreams on the first inaugural meeting at the UN on June 15th, 2006. We received recognition from older people, from families, the community and indeed governments. Early WEAAD activities were cautious, careful, original, ambitious, lots of fun and goodwill. Everyone connected with an event was striving for the best, and they were not disappointed. They were delighted with the opportunity to meet, greet, educate, and know that messages from the event would be spread to multicultural settings and listened to.

As years passed, WEAAD became more sophisticated and scholarly in context. Large gerontological, medical, nursing and social work organizations began referencing WEAAD and recognizing the extent and potency of its mandate. It was such a “feel good” movement, showing what could be done with limited funding and committed people with a huge mission and an equally huge determination to “refine possibility.” 

WEAAD 2020 is also noteworthy because the world has entered uncharted waters resulting in a global health crisis affecting mainly seniors. In the past, people have been more prone to thinking locally and not globally believing that we can close borders and build walls. But when you look at coronavirus it is clear that borders are artificial. This is now our time to show resourcefulness as the quarantine extends: technology will offer unique opportunities to those affected by lockdown, robots will find their place, intergenerational bonding will become stronger, and creativity will soar to unlimited heights.

For many years thought leaders have searched for an activity that would truly put the word “world” into World Day. The idea was to have a universal goal that could be owned by all countries, and be done at any place at any time, and become a WEAAD tradition and legacy.

The project “Plant a Tree for WEAAD” has been initiated to connect the goals of WEAAD with the concern for the environment. Plant a Tree for WEAAD projects can be included in a formal event with a large audience and venue; or as a small, private and personal function in a garden. The message is the same: human rights honouring the elderly and preserving the environment. The elderly are passionate about wanting to defend the land, water, climate and coastal lines of their country. Their hearts light up when remembering “I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree” (Kilmer, 1913). Being around trees helps people feel good; trees clean the air and our feelings. It has been found that “the greater the tree cover, the greater the pollution removal; and the greater the removal and population density, the greater the value of human health benefits” (Earth Talk, 2015). Trees are a symbol of hope and peace and should be planted at shelters, retirement homes, hospitals, prisons, schools, government offices, etc., so let’s make this happen, both individually and collectively.

The challenge for WEAAD 2020 is clear: we all long to belong – so bring people and communities together. Older people can be empowered decision makers: they hold up our country. Motivate, inspire, and advocate for the global elder abuse community to be the leaders we were meant to be, and continue to dream big.

Links to resources:

    ● National Center on Elder Abuse-
    ● The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse-
    ● Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse-
    ● Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario-
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