Society Matters | Volume 33 No. 1 | Autumn 2023

Volume 33 No. 1 | Autumn 2023 4 Society Matters Divine Word Missionaries in Zambia extend helping hand to ‘abandoned’ elderly In a parish on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia, the Divine Word Missionaries are working hard to improve the lives of the people, with a special focus on providing assistance to the elderly and people with disability. St Arnold Janssen Parish was opened in 2003. It is a huge parish, spread throughout the entire District of Mwandi, and it faces many different challenges and difficulties. The SVD are also present at St Frances Parish in Dambwa in the same diocese of Livingstone. “Mwandi village is situated along the bank of the Zambezi River, which separates Zambia and Namibia,” says Fr Rajesh Praveen D’Souza, SVD. “Like other parts of the western province of Zambia, Mwandi is covered by very deep sand which is not fertile enough for farming and agriculture. “The Mwandi area is semi-arid with dry climate conditions and high temperatures in summer, very cold in winter and floods during the rainy season. “Consequently there is poor agricultural production, lack of access to basic resources like water, lack of education and lack of health care. Employment opportunities are minimal, if any.” Fr Rajesh says most of the people in the parish are Lozi by tribe. Culturally, the life of the people here is very much influenced by cultural beliefs and traditional practices. Hence, there is a need for prophetic dialogue with the culture.” In the Lozi culture, old people are counted among the most abandoned by the community, apart from children and youth,” Fr Rajesh says. “Whereas in other cultures, old people are always taken well care of by their daughters and not their sons, this reality doesn’t happen in Lozi culture,” he says. “Lozi women leave their parents when getting married to follow and stay with their husbands. The impact of this is that their parents are not taken care of properly when they are old. “To make matters worse, the old people suffer a lot if they are left behind in their homes with their married sons. Their sons will not bother with their parents who are old because they also need to take care of their children and wife.” Fr Rajesh says the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the situation. “The old people struggled financially and turned to the parish for support. In addition to that, with the parish being located on the border of two countries, the lockdown and closing of the border also affected the economic life of the old people. “Some business sectors closed, and the rising cost of living has led to hunger. Day to day life is very hard for them because of poverty.” Fr Rajesh says there are more than 50 elderly people living in the parish, most of them suffering from poverty. There are also a number of disabled children and people disabled following a stroke, who need care.