Pact Partner Golden Age University Helps Belarus Age Gracefully

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Pact Partner Golden Age University Helps Belarus Age Gracefully

Junela Salnikava · May 27, 2016
Pact Partner Golden Age University Helps Belarus Age Gracefully Golden Age University fellows take part in a Nordic walking workshop.

At age 70, Valentina Zvyarynskaya was living her life as many Belarusian seniors do. She stayed home a lot, took part in few community activities and rarely made new friends.

Then she began attending courses at Golden Age University, or GAU, an organization based in the northwestern city of Grodno that encourages seniors to do more.

Now 73, Zvyarynskaya says her life has changed. She’s become active, made new friends, broadened her horizons and even volunteers at a local animal shelter.

“During this time, I have grown up in my own eyes,” Zvyarynskaya says. “I understood that it’s possible to be useful at my age.”

As one of its local partners in Belarus, Pact has strengthened GAU through training, mentorship and technical assistance. In turn, GAU is making a tangible difference for Belarus’s seniors.

Among the first civic projects of its kind in Belarus, GAU launched in 2010. Every year since, it has enrolled as many as 200 students — all age 55 or older — in curriculum designed to improve their quality of life through intellectual, physical and social activation. GAU’s academic year lasts two semesters beginning each September. Students attend lectures and presentations and volunteer, travel and take part in community activities together.

Valentina Zvyarynskaya

GAU differs from government programs in which seniors are passive consumers of social services. In contrast, GAU develops targeted citizen competencies and unleashes seniors’ potential to contribute to economic, social and political spheres of life.

Pact chose to support GAU in part because Belarus is steadily growing older. Currently, 14 percent of Belarusians are over the age of 65. By 2050, according to UN forecasts, that figure will grow by two and a half times to nearly 36 percent.

Belarus is not unique in this regard. Over the past 30 years, the world’s population over 60 has doubled.

GAU also engages in advocacy and policy work to improve the lives of seniors. On April 8-9, GAU organized the Second International Conference on Aging in Grodno, attended by 100 specialists from seven countries. Among the conference’s outcomes was the adoption of a resolution that identified specific suggestions for national and local strategies to help Belarus’s seniors.

GAU head Lana Rudnik speaks at the Second International Conference on Aging.

“Composed in the spirit of active aging, the resolution calls to create a decent, comfortable and safe environment for the seniors to enhance their contribution to society,” says Lana Rudnik, GAU’s head. “We highlight the role of the seniors to be responsible for their life and make every effort to improve its quality.”

GAU believes the resolution is a starting point for a dialogue to work with the Belarusian government to develop reforms in social service systems, health and beyond in the face of the country’s rapid aging.

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