I am spending the Australia Day weekend with my sister in Brisbane. We have all the pleasure of staying in her four-generation household. In her household she has her daughter, Lizzie + husband Cameron, grand-daughter Isabella, as well as our mother who has become quite frail in the past few months.
My sister, a high school science teacher, plans to work only part-time this year so she can be available to care for our mother. It is very warming to see her nurturing care of our mother. She cares for her with the same watchfulness that graced her mothering of her own daughters when they were small.
Thinking about very poor countries, like Tanzania, where life expectancy is in the mid-40s and dropping due to HIV/AIDS, I see that four generation households would be almost unheard of. Even three generation households would be rare. Family life in Tanzania is fractured by the struggle for existence, especially when disease takes children or parents, leaving grandparents, aunts and uncles to care for remaining family members.
See Mary-Elaine's blog in the sidebar for her account of the way the School of St Jude WILL NOT LET GO of the children that come into its care. She tells what happened to Joseph, whose mother was hacked to death in the bed beside him, and whose father committed suicide a few months later when he discovered he was HIV positive. Joseph seems to have moved between relatives and was accepted into St Jude's. Then he stopped coming to school. When school started this year he did not appear. The School has found him and is looking for a new home for him, so he can continue with his education and not fall through the cracks.
Vulnerable people, especially children, fall through the cracks so easily, especially when the community as a whole is living a subsistence life of extreme poverty. My mother, whose own life has been one of struggle, is lucky to live in a society where she was able to raise and educate two daughters who can give her the best of care in her frail old age.
We need to take care of those who are close to us, while also reaching out and helping those in need who are far away. In the wealthy West, we have the resources to do both.