Elder House would provide care for dying Africans

Click here to learn more about the friendship that has led to the Elder House plan.

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

In Tanzania, Africa, the AIDS epidemic and a flight to the city for economic reasons have resulted in the disappearance of much of the middle generation of family caregivers.

This drawing shows the proposed design of an Elder House in Tanzania, Africa.
This drawing shows the proposed design of an Elder House in Tanzania, Africa.

As a result, healthy elders are caring for children, but when the elders get sick or are nearing the end of their lives, there is no one to care for them. They often die alone in their huts, some not being found for days after death, according to the Rev. Paul Johansson of Central Lutheran Church in Elk River.

An effort is underway in Elk River to help by building an Elder House in Njombe, Tanzania, where people could be cared for in their last days.

“This isn’t a retirement home. This is care of the elderly when they’re on death’s door,” said Dan Dixon, who is one of the key organizers of the project.

Dixon explained the Elder House concept at the Oct. 31 meeting of the Elk River Rotary, held at Pizza Ranch. With him were Johansson and five members of a Tanzanian delegation who were visiting Elk River.

One of the Tanzanians, the Rev. Nelson Lukengelo Kaduma, said through an interpreter that the country has never developed this type of elder project.

“It is going to be of great impact in the community because people die without help at old age,” he told the Rotarians.

The Elder House would have room for 14 people. Dixon said it is envisioned as a place for people to spend the last one to two months of their lives.

A screened-in porch would protect occupants from mosquitoes, which carry malaria. A central fireplace would warm the house during the cold, rainy season and offer a source of ventilation during the hot, dry season, Dixon said. An office in the Elder House would be used for immunizing people from the village.

The floor plan for the proposed Elder House.
The floor plan for the proposed Elder House.

A house mother and three or four student nurses would live on site. The student nurses would be from a nursing school across the street from the proposed Elder House and would rotate through to help with the care. Volunteers from the churches and community would be involved as well. The chief of staff at a nearby hospital also has pledged support for the project, said Dixon, who was in Tanzania with Johansson in January.

The cost of constructing the Elder House is approximately $70,000 — about one fourth of what it would cost to build a similar facility in the United States, Dixon said. So far, $57,000 has been raised. Fundraising is continuing. Donations are tax deductible; checks may be made out to Central Lutheran Church – Elder House project and mailed to the church at 1103 School St., Elk River, MN 55330. All money received will go directly to the Elder House project.

People who donate $10,000 or more will have a bedroom in the Elder House named after them, Dixon said. So far, three of the bedrooms are named.

Both the Elk River Rotary and the Elk River Lions have been asked to give $1,000 each to the project.

The projected has generated interest far beyond Elk River. Dixon, president and CEO of Guardian Angels in Elk River, said an organization called LeadingAge that advocates for senior services is interested in promoting the Central Lutheran-Tanzania Elder House project as a model for other countries.

The Elder House is the latest venture in a 13-year partnership between Central Lutheran and two Lutheran churches in southern Tanzania known as Kibena and Matiganjola. Kaduma is the Kibena parish pastor. The other members of the Tanzanian delegation who visited Elk River were the Rev. Isaac Jonathan Chengula; Irene Lukengelo Ngavatula, Matiganjola parish women’s and children’s director; the Rev. Elly Simon Sanga, Matiganjola parish pastor; and Janeth Fulgence Malangalila, Kibena parish women’s director.

Chengula is one of the founders of the Central Lutheran-Tanzania partnership. He now is the chief executive coordinator for a university started last year in Tanzania. He led the delegation to Elk River.

Johansson said they came to Elk River as guests of Central Lutheran and were there from Oct. 30 through Nov. 7.

Their days were packed with activities, including visiting Community Aid Elk River, Faith In Action and Great River Family Promise in Elk River, Luther Seminary in St. Paul and Global Health Ministries in Minneapolis. They toured the area, including a trip to Mille Lacs Lake. They visited local schools, toured Guardian Angels and spent time with children at Little Lambs Christian Learning Center in Elk River and with people from Central Lutheran. They also participated in worship services.

Every two years a delegation visits the other congregation. Two years ago, representatives from Central Lutheran visited Kibena and Matiganjola, four years ago Central hosted guests from Kibena and Matiganjola, and six years ago Central visited Tanzania, Johansson said.

“The partnership remains alive because we take the time to be with one another,” he said.