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Caregiving Across Borders- Real Women Speak Blog

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By Elaine Friesen-Strang

11:41AM, December 7, 1988: a catastrophic tectonic earthquake shook the Armenian town of Spitak.   At the time, I didn't know much about Armenia: it was far from my corner of the world and self-absorbed life being the working mother of two young children. But when I saw photos of grieving parents, families with nowhere to go, a child crouched in a mound of rubble, my heart ached with their sadness and desperation. When you're the parent of an 18-month old, suddenly the tears of every infant, every child, pulls at your heart strings a bit harder.

11:56 AM, April 25, 2015: a 7.8 earthquake devastated Kathmandu and the surrounding area. Again, I am reminded of my global ignorance. Even though I have a good friend from Nepal, my knowledge of the small country bordered by China and India is woefully limited. The connection I now feel with the

country comes from the images of families huddled under plastic tarps, a man being pulled out of piles of bricks, and the frightened, pleading eyes of a older woman. My heart goes out to every young parent and crying child, but the edges of my empathy have been extended by the added years of my age and experience. A 61-year old woman in Kathmandu may be a care giver for an aging parent. She may be providing for grandchildren or dealing with financial set-backs, health concerns, and disability issues. A person's sense of responsibility remains, despite their own growing vulnerability. And now, for many people in Nepal, their world has literally collapsed around them. It is an unimaginable nightmare.

Toby Porter, Chief Executive with HelpAge International, says "Older people bear the brunt of disasters often because they cannot flee". Age International reports 75% of those killed by Hurricane Katrina were over the age of 60, but they made up just 15% of the New Orleans population. 56% of the deaths caused by Japan's earthquake and tsunami involved people over the age of 65; they accounted for 23% of the population. Nepal has a population of 27 million, 9% of them are over the age of 60. The sense of loss for an older adult whose home has been destroyed, or who has lost a care giver, must be overwhelming.

4,500 families are still living in makeshift shelters 27 years after the Spitak earthquake. Mania Grigoryan was 66 when she lost everything. Now at age 93, she still lives in a tin hut that hardly resembles a home. She survived World War ll and the Azerbaijan conflict, but says she still remembers the earthquake "like it was yesterday".

As of this writing, over 4,000 adults and children have died in Nepal's earthquake, over 7,000 have been injured. There are shortages of water, food and medical supplies. Disease is a concern. The despair and distress in Nepali faces reflects what would surely be our own in such a situation. As a mother and a daughter, I feel a responsibility to give aid immediately, but also to consider what our collective long-term role is in assuring survivors' resiliency.

Ways you can help

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AARP and the AARP Foundation has set up a matching program for relief efforts in Nepal and will match dollar for dollar up to $225,000. Click here to donate.

To review other ideas, the New York Times has compiled an article with resources on How to Help the Relief Effort in Nepal.

The Nepali Association of Oregon is working with Oregon-based Mercy Corps to support their relief work in Nepal, learn more here.



Welcome to Real Women Speak , where you’ll hear the voices of Oregon women who are struggling, soaring, muddling through and motivated to move forward.

Inspired by Decide.Create.Share, this blog chronicles stories from lighthearted happenings to questions of fortitude. From life-altering changes to simple anecdotes, our shared narratives serve to inspire, guide, and connect us.

Every woman has a voice. AARP Oregon seeks to amplify them.

About our guest blogger: My name is Elaine Friesen-Strang. I have played multiple roles in my personal and professional lives. While I consider how I intend to shape my sixth decade, I am involved with several organizations, including serving on the Executive Council for AARP Oregon.

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