You Don't Have To Be A Grandmother
By Karen and Erica
Dixon Chibanda is a psychiatrist working in the field of global mental health. He practices in Zimbabwe, where the ratio of mental health workers to people in need of assistance is very very low, and sometimes people commit suicide because no-one is there to help.
In 2006, Dr. Chibanda came up with a brilliant solution. He would enlist the legions of grandmothers who were present in every community in Zimbabwe, train them in relevant mental health protocols, and provide support via cell phone. The grandmothers would then provide talk therapy, on “friendship benches”, to people in need. His stirring TED talk can be seen here.
A genius idea. As he notes, there were 600 million people over 65 on earth at the time of his TED talk, and there will be 1.5 billion by 2050. Put them to use, he said. Zimbabwe did, to great effect, and now its experiment is being repeated elsewhere.
Obviously, many lives have been saved, or made better, by Dr. Chibanda’s idea. But among those must be included the lives of the grandmothers themselves. Once they were seen as useful, they became useful, and were integrated back into the world after being sidelined by their age.
Dr. Chibanda is really smart. But now that he has provided a model, it should not be too difficult to replicate in many other contexts. Indeed, we have posted about retired women are solicited for their help in the CASA program, and we have heard of another in which retired women, dressed so they can be seen, sit in courtrooms to make sure relevant protective procedures are followed.
There are surely many other opportunities. Just think about a role that could be filled by someone who knows a lot, has made tough judgments for decades, and wants to be a contributing member of her community. Everyone will benefit.