A recent trip to Kampala and visit to a young start-up project in the western district of Fort Portal, reminded me of conversations I often have with young people about grandparents. In Rwanda especially, the absence of grandparents is expressly missed by the ‘now’ generation. Yet oddly enough, those who have grandparents fail to realise the value of time with them. Of course there are some people that understand the value of elders like the family I first connected with in Rwanda back in 2006. It is the reason this family always goes to Byumba to spend the holiday with their grandmother.
Though I long to remain in Rwanda after more than 6 amazing and fulfilling years, taking up my role as a grandparent is calling me back to Australia. Family and the longing of generational heritage are in all of us if we’re honest. I remember when my own kids at around 10 to 12 years of age fought with me not to go to grandma’s for Tuesday night dinners. In later years, they blamed me that they didn’t have a better relationship with their grandparents.
The significance between a grandparent and grandchild is the bonding, completeness, heritage, stories, time, love, prayer, connectedness of extended family, support, encouragement, culture, family values, virtues, history, visual memorabilia and even touch and smells. Of all the things I remember most about my grandmother was the garden and her ‘green thumb’ to grow absolutely anything. It was all in the ‘tea-leaves’ she recycled in the garden. Age is a numeric misconception that the higher the number, the older we must be. To kids, everybody is ‘old’.
Why does a number dictate who we are, how we should act, how long we can work or be useful, and why does age disassociate us from the generations? It’s what we allow. I sat with Speciose recently, a 65-year-old whom I met in Jinja, Uganda. A widow for 20 years, she had graduated 4 children through university and the last with a year to go. A grand feat in itself, but I asked her if she has grandchildren and how good their relationship is. I learnt that Speciose has three but has no input into their lives. This is the unfortunate norm, not just in Africa, but across the continents. Grandparents play a vital role not just in families but in communities generally. It is a sad loss that through war or other disasters the older generation did not survive. However, it is an even sadder loss when living but neglected. Development, urbanisation, displacement or other constraints have left many grandparents alone or made to feel obsolete, undervalued. Let’s rejoin the generations, appreciate the elderly for all their wisdom, character and informal education they can pass down to their grandchildren.
The writer is an educationist.