Life Only Starts at 60

Tuesday, April 7, 2020
The Center for Active Ageing fills a gaping hole and provides activities for senior citizens that are not provided by Belarus' state agencies
Courtesy of the Center for Active Ageing

Elena Demidova, the Belarusian founder and head of the Center for Active Ageing  was a government official before switching her career to social entrepreneurship after participating in USAID’s Community Connections program (ComCon) in the United States in 2017. The ComCon program annually provides approximately 60 Belarusian professionals an opportunity to visit the United States to exchange best practices in their field and learn about the life and culture of Americans.

Elena participated in the ComCon program focused on “Empowering Women to Resolve Community Issues.” This included a visit to a cafe for senior citizens in Chicago, Illinois, which showed Elena the power of community action in addressing local needs. Upon her return to Belarus, she found partners and a space in Minsk, the capital city, to open the Center to the capital’s elderly population. Since its opening, the Center -- which essentially is a service center for Belarus’ senior citizens--has extended its diverse programming to over 600 elderly people, and seeks to empower more through its courses and social projects. 

The Center caters to retirees and people of pre-retirement age by offering more than 25 different courses in computer literacy, foreign language instruction, business basics, psychology, and economic longevity. The Center also offers fitness classes taught by instructors with special licenses to work with people over 60. In addition to paid services, the Center implements social projects and holds free meetings, lectures, and seminars for senior citizens. Additionally, it houses a self-help group for elderly victims of domestic violence, self-defense classes for older women, and longevity programs in cooperation with trade union organizations at large enterprises.

The Center’s most popular class teaches older women how to model. In June 2019, some women from the class participated in the third Grand Miss Contest for ageless models in Italy. “It is not about your age, but about continuing to follow your dreams and desires,” Elena explained. 

Some of these courses, as well as partnerships with a large drugstore chain and ecotourism groups, help older people keep their jobs, attain new ones, or stay self-employed. The "Elderly Specialist" project, implemented in cooperation with the ADEL drug store network, increases employment opportunities for elderly people and empowers them to adopt an active lifestyle. Thanks to this project, people over the age of 55 are trained and employed at local drug stores, helping to decrease discrimination and negative stereotypes against Belarus’ elderly population. 

ComCon is part of USAID’s efforts to strengthen civil society in Belarus by empowering specialists like Elena, who learn how to use education and entrepreneurship to serve a vulnerable population. The strong network developed through ComCon is evident at the Center, where six other ComCon alumni have joined to lead its self-defense classes, modeling school, and other master classes, while others provide communications expertise. 

Since USAID initiated the Community Connections program in 2006, more than 700 Belarusian professionals have been exposed to American best practices and culture through these exchanges with U.S. communities. 

Last updated: September 16, 2020

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