Janice George-Berkeley leads Waves Foundation in caring for the elderly

Janice George-Berkeley, president of the Tobago-based Waves (Women Adding Value To The Elders) Foundation . - DAVID REID
Janice George-Berkeley, president of the Tobago-based Waves (Women Adding Value To The Elders) Foundation . - DAVID REID

For many people, growing old can be a frightening prospect.

Just the thought of having to cope with health challenges, being alone or losing one’s autonomy can even lead to paranoia in some cases.

President of the Tobago-based Waves (Women Adding Value To The Elders) Foundation Janice George-Berkeley is all too familiar with this reality

“There is a popular saying that age is just a number. However, many people that I have interfaced with over the years have a real fear of getting old, especially those within the 40-50 age group. I guess because they view it as going downhill,” she told WMN.

George-Berkeley, who turned 54 on April 21, said these anxieties are often expressed through what is known as gerascophobia (an abnormal and persistent fear of growing old).

“Some folks express a concern for their quality of life in old age. Will their mental faculties be intact? Will they suffer from physical decline or have severe health challenges? The whole idea of being alone in old age is another concern.

“Some people have five to eight children and yet when they grow old, they end up alone, fending for themselves. Then we have those who believe their children or loved ones are waiting to post them off to a nursing home.”

George-Berkeley said some people also fear not being able to support themselves financially.

“This is why many of them put aside a bit of what is earned now in preparation for old age.”

She noted many people do not express those concerns openly but through one-on-one interaction.

“But I believe that if our elders know that they are cared for in a responsible and dignified manner that they will be included rather than excluded, that we will value them later regardless of their age. Growing old will be less of a concern.”

From her personal encounters with older people in Tobago, George-Berkeley said, many of them do not want to be neglected, forgotten or left out. She contends while they may not be able to go to a party, regular beach lime or the movies, there are activities they can be involved in and feel a part of.

“I don’t believe that they should be ‘pushed aside’ or ‘shelved’ simply because they have aged. Our elders have offered a lot and we need to make them feel loved and valued. They need pampering like everyone else. Those who are bed-ridden, those who are home-based and cannot move around as they used to, as well as those in care facilities, still need to be valued and appreciated.”

Janice George-Berkeley, president of the Tobago-based Waves (Women Adding Value To The Elders) Foundation. Photo by David Reid

George-Berkeley, who teaches Language and Literature at Scarborough Secondary School, believes more can be done for the elderly.

“Too many of them are alone or at home and not going outdoors. A simple gesture like taking them for a bus ride would be welcomed. In-home storytelling, singing and other activities can and will go a long way.”

But she said organisations such as Waves cannot accomplish this goal in isolation.

Rather, she said it must be a team effort involving all stakeholders – the THA, non-governmental organisations and others who are committed to making a difference in their lives.

Established on March 8, 2021, to coincide with International Women’s Day, George-Berkeley said the group was launched officially on March 27, 2021, at Scarborough Secondary.

At present, it comprises 11 executive members, a technical adviser and two consultants – independent senator Dr Maria Dillon-Remy and well-known educator and cultural historian Dr Eastlyn Mc Kenzie.

George-Berkeley said many people also call on a daily basis expressing a desire to be part of the organisation.

“We welcome new members as we need volunteers to come on board and share our passion. However, we do have a screening process.”

She said Waves was not initially conceptualised as an ‘elderly organisation’ but one born simply out of a desire to serve and care for others.

The mother of one recalled being deeply pained by the gruesome murders of Ashanti Riley and Andrea Bharatt.

“I felt so helpless and wondered how these young ladies and others felt when there was no one around to help at their most desperate moment.”

Initially, George-Berkeley attempted to organise a march on the island but covid19 restrictions prevented it from taking place. Nevertheless, her gesture drew support from many people who came on board to take a stand against abuse of young girls and women. Moved by the response, George-Berkeley later reached out to former THA secretary of community development Marslyn Melville-Jack who advised that they form themselves into a group.

Waves was born.

At that time, she said, the focus was on violence against women. But in conversations with some of her friends, other groups and even people abroad, it was suggested that attention be paid to the elderly.

George-Berkeley said after much consultation and discussion with her group members, she decided to give it a try. After 13 months her experiences at the helm of WAVES, thus far, has been an eye-opener.

“You will be surprised to know how many sad situations I would have encountered right here in our little Tobago. We need to make a change and do better. I really want to throw my heart into it and be there for our elders.”

George-Berkeley believes her childhood experiences in Sangre Grande, Trinidad, prepared her for this role. Growing up away from her biological family, she was eventually adopted by an old lady everyone called Mama, who was a staunch member of the Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) church’s welfare department.

“I had a very, very tough childhood and never thought I would have lived past the age of ten. So many horrible incidents. But I believe this is where I was nurtured to care for people.

George-Berkeley went on, “There was no limit to who Mama would care for and wherever she went to help, I was a tag along. I just love caring for others. It’s in my blood. I will feel strange seeing someone in need and not reaching out. God has added so many quality years to my life. I owe it all to Him.”

She described herself as simple and humble.

“I like working behind the scenes so Waves is like coming out in the open for me. It’s a big step but I am taking it.”

Although most covid19 restrictions have been lifted, George-Berkeley said members still meet via Zoom to delegate responsibilities and plan projects.

She said the organisation does not have a home.

“While we will like to have an established place out of which we operate, and where the public can interface with us, we did not want to wait on that. It is our belief that people must not wait to be happy, to be comfortable, to be loved and feel loved.

“Everyone is committed to doing their best as far as possible, since we share a common passion and our values are more or less the same. If we embark on a project there is usually a set deadline for delivery or execution of the same. There is reporting and transparency.”

She said at the start of the organisation, Dillon-Remy held a six-week round table with members, where they learnt about the importance of valuing others, showing respect and listening.

“The round table was of great help to us and we operate with these principles. The Waves Foundation is not a person, it’s a team.”

George-Berkeley said the organisation, which is in the process of becoming a registered national NGO, was not able to do much during the lockdowns.

But members still rallied support to send water to St Vincent when the Soufriere volcano erupted in St Vincent and the Grenadines, just over one year ago. The group also distributed hampers to people in need and did some home visits.

“In this group, members reach out to others in their own personal way. They were doing this long before the group’s formation and this is why it was easy for us to come together.”

At present, the group is working on getting a pair of hearing aids for an elderly woman who lives alone. George-Berkeley said Waves is also planning to host an event to commemorate International Senior’s Day, which is observed annually on August 21.

Dr Eastlyn Mc Kenzie, left, and Dr Maria Dillon-Remy, members of the Waves Foundation.

“We hope to involve other stakeholders who can help us honour and appreciate our elders on that day.

She said Waves is intent on fulfilling its mandate.

“The foundation is geared towards being a very proactive and dynamic group. Though we are few, our projects and impact on communities should be visible and indelible. We hope to have a positive impact on our elders by meeting their needs as best as we can. We are aiming for longevity and we intend to be around for a very long time. As Dr Mc Kenzie said at our launch, ‘We will never be out of old people.’”

Waves executive team

President – Janice George-Berkeley

Vice president – Ann-Marie Davis

Secretary – Jillian Thomas-de Gannes

Treasurer – Iris Thomas

Assistant secretary­ ­– Efelomo Oyakire

Treasurer – Shenel Coggins-Duke

PRO – Allison Hoy

Floor members

Lyris Esdelle-Nunez

Merla George-Lovelace

Yvonne Dalrymple

Melina De Coteau-Barrow

Technical adviser

Jonathan-Lee Berkeley


"Janice George-Berkeley leads Waves Foundation in caring for the elderly"

More in this section