Vietnam's 'Self Help Clubs' in Vinh Phuc province

Intergenerational Self-Help Club is a village-based model, aiming to improve older people and community’s well-being through inter-generational and self-help approaches, with special attention given to those from more vulnerable groups.

Ms. Phan Thi Tiem, who lives at Dong Village, Lung Hoa commune, Vinh Tuong district, is 98 years old. Photo: Thanh Tam

The speed of population aging in Vietnam is among the fastest ever projected. Meanwhile, the country is still at developing stage, with low middle-income level. This combination of limited time and resources makes it harder for Vietnam to address demographic transition. The Vietnamese government has been learning from other countries’ experience, especially Japan. Nevertheless, the differences in social, economic situation, speed of the aging process and level of development suggest that Vietnam should also consider a tailored approach.

Since 2006, the country has been implementing a community led model called Inter-generational Self-help Club (ISHC). The ISHC model has proved to be sustainable, comprehensive, affordable and effective. The model receives strong buy in from the government and the community and has been integrated into national programs and policies. The idea behind ISHC is to promote healthy and active aging. Through ISHCs, older people in specific and the whole community in general, are cared for and more importantly, promoted. As a result, older people’s image is improved. Their untapped abilities are harnessed to become agents of social development rather than passive beneficiaries.

Ms. Phan Thi Tiem, who lives at Dong Village, Lung Hoa commune, Vinh Tuong district (Vinh Phuc province), is 98 years old. Paralyzed 8 years ago due to a fall, her life has been stuck to the bed, and completely depends on the care of her descendants. She lives with her daughter – Ms. Tuyet, who is also at her older age (68), and her grandchildren (who working far away from home). There are only her, Ms. Tuyet, and two great-grandchildren who are school age.

In the past, Ms. Tuyet lived in hardship as she had hypertension herself. Her children often had to take off their work to help her take care of Ms. Tiem.

Acknowledge Ms. Tiem's difficulty, the Intergeneration Self Help Club of Dong Village offers to put her on the list of beneficiaries of its Homecare Volunteer activity. The Club assigns 2 members of its homecare volunteer team to take a turn to support and take care of Ms.Tiem at least three times a week. The volunteers visit Ms. Tiem. They talk, encourage her, help cleaning her house, help her with personal hygiene, assist with personal care such as eating, drinking, etc.

Ms. Tiem is sorely happy. She talks and shares with the volunteers about her health. She hopes the volunteers can keep supporting and caring for her. As the volunteers care for Ms.Tiem, her daughter and grandchildren can go to work without much worrying as before. Especially, when it comes to an urgent need, the volunteer help to solve other difficulties for her family so that their lives become more stable (Such as when Ms.Tuyet has a medical appointment, besides taking care of Ms.Tiem, the volunteers also help to take the kids to school or other tasks).

Tran Bich Thuy, Country Director of HelpAge International in Vietnam provided two support packages with a total value of 213 million VND to the Representative Committees of the Association of the Elderly of Thua Thien Hue and Quang Tri province. Source: HelpAge International in Vietnam

ISHC replication

The Intergenerational Self Help Club model has been recognized and appreciated by the Government and the Prime Minister and will continue to be replicated through Decision No. 1336/QD-TTg signed on 31/08/2020.

The community-based care for older persons (OP) has been identified by domestic and international experts and organizations as a suitable direction given the economic, social and cultural conditions of the ASEAN region. The ISHC model is a typical representative of the above approach. On one hand, the clubs help to reduce the barriers that OP may encounter in order to continue living happily and healthy in their own house and community.

On the other hand, the clubs create a safe and encouraging environment to promote OP's knowledge and responsibility. In particular, not only OP, but also their family, their community - those-who-will-become-OP-one-day can also benefit from the club. The model helps raise awareness on ageing issues and the life-cycle approach, asssisting each individual in preparing for old age.

In 2016 and 2020, the Prime Minister of Vietnam has twice approved the decision to replicate the model nationwide, aiming to have at least 6,000 clubs by 2025 in 90% of provinces/cities.

Vietnam, one of the most rapidly aging countries in the world, is estimated to see more than 22 million older persons or 20.4% of the total population by 2050. Currently, the number of older persons is 7.4 million, accounting for 7.7% of the total population, according to statistics reported at an international workshop held on November 18-19 in Hanoi.

The country has officially entered the “aging phase” since 2011 with the number of older persons (at age of 65 years or over) making up 7% of the population.

Mai Nguyen