Q. What challenge(s) related to wellbeing does your initiative or strategy seek to address?
A. Health status, participation and independence levels vary among old people. The World Health Organization states: “Population aging raises many fundamental questions, especially in Palestine. Older people are often ignored resource that makes an important contribution to the fabric of our societies.”
Growing old in an urban setting might leave one socially isolated. In addition, many of the elders do not plan for retirement age, hence becoming dramatically affected when the time comes. Engaging in physical activities and social activities are not common or traditional for senior citizens in Ramallah despite the opportunities offered by the city.
Ramallah Municipality values the importance of health and wellbeing for all people, especially the elderly, by responding to the urgent health needs of the community, particularly the overfilled and overwhelmed health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q. How does the initiative respond to the challenge(s) identified?
A. The Forum of Expertise currently counts 350 members and succeeded in encouraging more seniors to actively engage in different intellectual, physical, cultural and social activities that positively affected their wellbeing. Physical exercise is made available via classes such as yoga, dance, breathing lessons aiming to harmonize the mind, the body and the spirit, hence improving participants’ physical, social, and psychological wellbeing.
The Forum successfully managed to keep its members active during the lockdowns by utilizing social media. Different training sessions, workshops, musical program, book reading reviews, short films discussions, E–Magazine that allows the members to write articles (writing is healing), and other intellectual activities, were carried out using available platforms.
Q. What are some specific examples of the anticipated or observed impacts of your initiative?
A. The initiative aims to foster the concept of “active aging” as a holistic comprehensive approach that will directly and indirectly affect the health, welfare and the wellbeing of senior citizens living in Ramallah and surrounding areas.
Our intervention aims to create a cross generational cooperation platform and design activities that aim to exchange knowledge, skills and experience and strengthen citizens’ positive action towards issues and concerns.
Although, there is a need to examine the long term impact of the Forum’s Programs on participants, we can rely on the findings of the following survey, that was conducted post the first lockdown; June – August 2020, by members of the Forum’s advisory committee, to explore the impact of Covid-19 on members of the Forum. It showed that: the pandemic and the lockdown affected the general, physical and mental health, as well as the social life of the majority of members whether living alone, with a spouse or with others. However, the survey revealed the importance of engaging in the virtual activities, conducted by the Forum:
- Reason to wake up: participants felt they had a reason to wake up and prepare themselves to engage, whether in terms of getting dressed and grooming themselves and or preparing for discussion.
- Sense of relevance: Sharing their expertise with the community, youth and even small kids enhanced their sense of relevance and improve their mental health.
- Improved physical status: participants continuously requested for physical fitness activities to continue online or outdoors. Some attested to improving feeling healthier, reducing chronic pain and weight-related issues.
Q. How did you consider equity & accessibility when designing your initiative? What public-facing participatory tools and approaches have you or do you plan to use throughout the planning, design, and implementation of the initiative?
A. Members of the Forum include women and men who are senior citizens, retirees or/and any individual over 50 years old, as well as independent experts in specific fields, willing to volunteer their time for the benefit of the community. This is part of the innovation process of implementing activities and ensuring the inclusion of all citizens.
The Forum is a two-story building, located in the Old City of Ramallah. The premises are 450 square meters, encircled by an established garden with trees and flowers. It was renovated to accommodate the functions and activities of the Forum, complete with a small library, reading area, a multipurpose room and training rooms that are equipped with desktops and laptops. The building has ramps and an elevator to accommodate the needs of individuals with special needs. Location of the Forum is easily accessed by personal and public transportation and has a small parking lot with additional available parking spaces on the street.
In a conservative society such as ours, we are proud to conduct activities that are designed and attended by men and women. We are also extremely proud that our activities attract and include people with various religious, political and or secular beliefs as well as from different social classes.
All activities are free of charge and are voluntarily designed and executed by members of the Forum, which constitutes a major strength of the Forum’s approach.
Q. How do you or will you ensure your initiative's long-term, sustained impact? In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, how did you or do you plan to adapt your initiative?
A. During 2020, the Forum of Expertise implemented 312 activities (55 activities on Zoom application); of volunteers is 168 (55% men and 45% women); More than 500 volunteer hours were dedicated to leading and supporting the different activities in and out the Forum. Thanks to digital activities, we were able to keep our audience engaged and active.
The Forum of Expertise is also committed to an unwritten social contract that regulates the relationships between men and women and the different parts of the community by tackling and maintaining the positive change, social cohesion and cultural traditions of the community. We are proud to introduce a new and accepted cultural norm of inclusion of both genders. Moreover, we are extremely proud of having residents from different background and beliefs are engaged in physically fitness exercise classes.
As other municipal premises, the Forum is equipped with solar cells to contribute to a green environment and reduce operational costs.