Without retirement and health insurance, some seniors are living in hell
This Wednesday, June 22, 2022, Marie-Ange Auguste sold half of the eggs she had brought in her basket. There are only six left. She leaves them at the bottom of an aluminum bowl on top of a small bucket filled with peanut butter. “I don’t have any cassava this morning,” the sixty-year-old tells a customer who then settles for a banana fig for 35 gourdes.
Sitting on a small bench that she carries everywhere with her, Auguste takes advantage of the departure of her customer to catch her breath a little. I can’t take it anymore,” she confides, making a face. My knees are swollen from walking every day.
Marie-Ange Auguste, 64 years old, does not remember how long she has been a street vendor of figs and hard-boiled eggs. She only knows that her hair was not yet all gray and that she still had the vigor of a young woman.
Her basin placed on her head, her steps heavy, it is almost noon when Marie-Ange Auguste decides to end her break. The schools have already closed their doors, Auguste is not sure of her clients for the day. But her agenda is still very full. At two o’clock in the afternoon,” she says, “I’ll go buy figs in Pétion-Ville. Around four o’clock, I will go to Poste Marchand to get bread.
By the time she gets home, it will be six o’clock. A good thing for her since, she says with a laugh, the previous night’s rain soaked her bed. “It will have time to dry before I go throw my overtired body in it,” she sighs.
Monday through Friday, Marie-Ange Auguste leaves her house at five-thirty in the morning and returns around six in the evening. Sometimes the sale is not so good, but she sells at least a good part of her goods along John Brown Avenue.
At her age, Auguste should have already been retired. But the lack of a clear state policy for the third age prevents them from enjoying the rest of their lives in peace. She also has no children to take care of her, in a country where the family takes care of the elderly. That’s what sociologist Danièle Magloire explains. “Given the way we live, in general, the elderly are taken care of by their progeny. It will be the person with the most availability. And when the direct descendants are not present to provide care, they hire people if they have the means.
There are almost no retirement homes either and those that exist are very expensive.
According to Danièle Magloire, this is not a social organization that we are familiar with. “In Haitian practice, there are extremely important family ties of proximity. Elderly parents live with their children, and even when some grandparents live in their own homes, there is a constant presence of their descendants.
In addition, retirement homes that are functioning are not spread throughout the country. They are all located in the western department,” criticizes the sociologist. Therefore, the whole population does not have access to them.
Illness is another calamity for which older people generally have little help.
“Sometimes, after a certain age, people develop chronic degenerative diseases. These diseases will cause complications. And in turn, the complications will reduce the functional capacities of these people,” explains Jean-Claude Desgranges, a geriatrician, a doctor who deals with the diseases of old people.
It is their children or, in the worst case, their siblings, who take care of them as much as they can.
When she suffered a stroke in March 2022, Renette Lavéus went to live with her son, Charlito Léger, in Delmas 31. She was a charcoal seller in Croix-des-Bossales until December 2021.
At 63 years old, she was doing very well, until bandits attacked her near the Hyppolite market. After fleeing her home in Martissant, this second event was the last straw, causing a stroke.
Clairicia Israël, also a former coffee vendor at the Péant crossroads, enjoyed good health even when she was over 70 years old. Only her hands were shaking. But in 2020, a hypertensive crisis and then a stroke left her bedridden.
In both cases, for Israël and Lavéus, it is their mother-in-law who takes care of them. According to Alain Jean, this is often the case. “Not only is the work of caring for the elderly not highly sought-after,” the sociologist and professor at the State University of Haiti points out, “it is essentially a female job. Specifically, a task for wives or women with a precarious economic situation.
Alain Jean blames the organization of society for this fact. “There is a social division of labor where certain roles and tasks are assigned to women and others to men. They are the least well paid and socially valued.”
However, an older person does not have to lose her abilities, either physical or mental. This is a mistaken belief. “Old age is not a disease,” warns Desgranges. That’s why he created the Third Age Foundation in 2014. “The objective,” he explains, “is to popularize the concepts of the third age, to raise awareness of the possibility of accompanying the elderly, and to be able to install, not retirement homes, but residential homes in the west, north, and south departments.
The difference is that the elderly reside in the so-called retirement homes, while their offspring pick them up at the end of the day in the residential homes. But for now, this is just a project.
Every day that passes, Marie-Ange Auguste is less and less sure of her future. Both diabetic and hypertensive, her body can no longer cope with the level of fatigue to which she subjects it daily. She is aware of this, but she cannot count on anyone, she explains.
August promises to go see a doctor before the end of the week. But she has already made up her mind. If the doctor says I should rest,” she says, “I will listen to him. I may rest for a week. However, there is no way that I will not be allowed to go about my business.
If she gives up her business, Auguste fears she will no longer be able to support herself. With no one to buy her even one pill in case she can’t get out of bed, she relies on the good heart of her church leader. She believes that “the pastor and his wife will have no problem with me staying in the church until I feel better.