WHILE Malaysia seems to be heading in the direction of the west with more and more nuclear families, one local NGO believes that we should stand up and fight for the extended family unit.
It is still vital that the three generations in a family support each other as it will benefit all members, says NGO Gerontological Association of Malaysia (GEM).
“To be one society and to bridge the gap within the generations, we should bring back the fundamentals of the extended family. We have imitated the west, but as far as the family is concerned, we would be better off with the extended family. Otherwise it’s too selfish and in the end we would not even care about our wife or children.
“For me, where is the love and care? If life is withouth love, it’s not worth living,” says Mohd Ghazali Abdul Ghaib, president of GEM.
He believes that the extended family can be beneficial to the three generations. The grandparents can assist the parents especially in the cities where both parents are working. The grandparents can be the supervisor when the parents are at work. This is not to be confused with the babysitter, of course.
They can also impart good values to their grandchildren and share their knowledge so that the grandchildren will grow up to have more well-rounded personalities.
Meanwhile, the two younger generations can also look after the older generation, if they are not as able-bodied.
Ghazali talks about the four bridges needed in society to connect the generations.
Firstly, there needs to be more activities and events that involve senior citizens, whether they are active or less active. This is to reintroduce seniors into the community, which sometimes turn a blind eye to their existence. It also provides an opportunity for young and old to mingle and the focus can be on creating awareness.
Secondly, there must be activities that involve the sharing of knowledge and skills. This is where older people can teach and share knowledge and experience with the younger ones. It could even be on how to play the games that used to be played in the past, like congkak and marbles.
Thirdly is the sharing of feelings and frustrations, the ups and downs. This is where the senior citizens can share with the young and vice versa. The older ones can share on how they got started in their careers, how they solved problems, and how they started courting and got married. On the other hand, the young can share with the older ones how competitive the world is today, the cost of living, the explosion of knowledge and their own challenges.
“These are the things to be shared. The seniors can either advise or just provide a listening ear. Just listening can provide relief to the younger ones,” says Ghazali.
Fourth is the spiritual side of things. Ghazali believes this is where the grandparents and grandchildren can thrive through prayers and blessings.
He says there needs to be a relationship between seniors and youngsters.
He believes it is important for the old and young to learn from each other and support each other. It is vital for the seniors to be an inclusive part of the community, rather than sent away to homes or live in the kampung by themselves.
GEM attempts to make a difference and assist senior citizens through its activities. It currently collaborates with the Welfare Department to have its volunteers visit the old folks. The weekly visits are meant to make contact, socialise and assist (find out what they need, what their problems are and how the NGO can assist them).
This project, spearheaded by the Welfare Department, involves several other NGOs with each one being given the responsibility of monitoring the seniors in selected states.
GEM has been charged with overseeing Pahang and Johor.
“We are supposed to be the eyes and the ears of the government. Not every wakil rakyat (elected representative) can see the problems of the senior citizens.
“Our volunteers will be able to tell us what are the problems of the senior citizens and what are their aspirations, their good experiences and values,” says Ghazali.
He laments the fact that senior citizens are sidelined and even neglected today.
“They are a source of knowledge but nobody is interested. They have become neglected. They have taken care of their children, their children move to the towns and they are left alone. Why? Because they believe in the nuclear family.
“GEM and the Welfare Department believe in the extended family and we promote it. The nuclear family is against our principals and our culture.
“I’m for the extended family because I take care of my children and I’m concerned about my grandchildren. I don’t want to babysit them all day but I can give ideas on how grandparents can play their role in modern society,” he adds.