"As an older person you are treated a bit differently in Lima... with dignity and not made feel less."
Posted on 21st February 2023
Meet Michael Murphy, 75 and a volunteer English tutor with Fáilte Isteach.
Michael Murphy’s volunteering arm is well developed. As well as tutoring Ukranian migrants with Failte Isteach, he delivers Meals on Wheels, and has a 20 year relationship with Peru as a community worker. Aged 75, Michael was born in Portlaoise spent much of his married life in Co Donegal, returning to the midlands 12 years ago to be near family, and now lives in Killucan in what he describes as ‘a lovely community'.
On holiday in Peru, he was introduced to the poverty of Lima and began going there regularly to support a shanty town community. A civil engineer, Michael is self-employed allowing him to take up to three months off at a time. He is a qualified TEFL teacher, (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and funds his trips by teaching English to professionals and executives at a private college in Lima.
Outside on the street, he was very hands on: ‘There is no social welfare as we have here, though the government do provide food to very poor communities – rice, potatoes, fish. But there was nowhere to cook and distribute the food. So I bought the materials and taught them how to build soup kitchens, I believe in the concept of self-help to get them to do it and to learn’, he said.
He has been involved with Ukranian refugees in Ireland since their arrival, as part of a Mullingar group organising homework classes to children to improve their English. So when Ukrainians arrived in nearby Kinnegad, he wanted to assist. ‘I called into the local hotel where they were staying and offered to help in any way I could. A few days later, I received a call from Patricia Doyle, the Failte Isteach coordinator in Kinnegad, and learnt about the service’. He joined the group with other volunteers and received training from Claire Dalton, Failte Isteach’s national development officer before classes formally began.
These take place in the gym hall of a local school every Tuesday evening. Michael sits around the table with six to eight pupils who can range in age from 18 to 65. He stresses that the befriending is as important as conversational English, and that individuals in the group can vary in language fluency. He also meets some of his students locally for coffee.
‘I know them very well now. In class, we don’t talk about the war or what is happening in their own country, I might ask one of them how his Mom is in Ukraine, but we don’t dwell on that, I think they come to us for an uplifting evening’ he said.
Has he experienced ageism personally? ‘No, not at all, though I have witnessed it,’ he says. He quotes the example of seeing older people in a bank, unable through no fault of their own, to access the machines and queuing up to talk to a human being. ‘As an older person you are treated a bit differently in Lima. While it has its problems I would have to say that wherever you go there, there is a preferential queue for older people. They are treated with dignity and not made feel less.
‘I think this area of the digital is the single biggest area of discrimination and marginalisation affecting older people. So much of life has moved online. I am not great technically but I know enough to get by. However, I have family members who are not technically adept and find life quite difficult now for this reason’, he says.
Michael is a widower with six adult children and seven grandchildren. He would like to see more contact between old and young:
‘When delivering meals on wheels, very often the older person would like me to stay and chat, but we can’t do that. They can be lonely and need people to talk to. I think there is a role for the church at parish level to encourage young people to visit older people in the parish’, he says. An extra bonus is that this kind of interaction between the generations could go some way to counter ageism.
The Alliance represents the collective thinking of seven significant NGOs working in the age sector, uniting their learning from working with the diversity of older people and the issues that older people face. The seven-member organisations are Active Retirement Ireland, Age & Opportunity, ALONE, The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Irish Hospice Foundation, The Irish Senior Citizens Parliament and Third Age.