Seniors Rights Victoria receives many requests from community and seniors groups for talks about elder abuse, and about what older people can do to combat abuse or lessen the risk of experiencing it themselves. Over a year ago, we began involving older volunteers in our community education program as public speakers.
We currently have 13 volunteer public speakers, and around 25 altogether have been involved in the program to date. Many of our speakers have been drawn to the role because they are interested in and understand the issues people face as they age.
Pamela Myers, a retired schoolteacher, decided to volunteer after her experience of becoming a carer and advocate for her husband had opened her eyes to just how many older people need information and support with legal and health issues.
‘Once you begin talking to a group about ageism, there are nods and smiles,’ she says. ‘You can see that some people in the group have some knowledge of the problems, and what they want to know is what they can do themselves. And then you can see them thinking about who they can pass the information on to.’
For Ken Humphries, also a retired teacher, one of the harder aspects of the role was coming to terms with the facts of elder abuse: ‘I knew about abuse happening sometimes in institutions but it’s pretty confronting to see the type of thing that can happen in relationships of trust, in families.’
The groups which request speakers represent a range of cultural backgrounds, and a volunteer speaker will sometimes work with an interpreter. Ken says that he had not met many people from different cultural backgrounds previously, and that getting out and meeting people from other cultures has been a great experience: ‘It’s been interesting to see how other cultural communities operate.’
Groups vary in size and our volunteers have to be comfortable with speaking to both very large and very small groups. Some already have public speaking experience, or they might be used to chairing meetings or have been teachers or trainers. Pamela finds it can be challenging to keep each group engaged, and she aims to prepare well so as to be in complete control of the information, and then she sizes up the group when she arrives, and tailors the talk to suit them.
Pamela’s role as a speaker on issues around elder abuse has been a source of great satisfaction to her because she feels that she is doing something really useful. ‘I enjoy meeting with these groups because they are generally people who are thinking and asking questions, and deserve to be treated as such. They are great to talk to.’
If you would like to book a speaker for your group, or you would like more information about Seniors Rights Victoria’s community education sessions, please contact Gary Ferguson on 03 9655 2112.