Photography courtesy of the 50 plus community group
Since November, The 50 plus community has been meeting on a weekly basis, planning activities, meeting and bond in outings taking place in Alexandria or in Cairo. With “a new beginning,” as their slogan the Facebook group—which was launched to create a space for elderly people to network, make new friends and support each other virtually as well as in real life—has caught the attention of everyday people and the media alike for its unique approach and target group.
“The majority of people that I know in my age group feel very sad and lonely, and I personally share the same feeling. When my only daughter grew up and got married, she became very busy with her own life, and my life has become very empty since,” explains Huda Mustafa, the founder. At an event in Cairo on World Diabetes Day to raise awareness about the disease and highlight prevention methods, Mustafa tells Egypt Today how helping other people was her primary motivation for creating The 50 plus community; she believes it will facilitate a greater connection among members so that they can fill their free time without creating a burden for their children. “I want to help all the people who feel that their lives ended once they grew older. I want them to know that it is never too late to enjoy and live the life that they desire at any age,” Mustafa affirms. “Our age group lacks attention and support. . . . Instead of feeling that our lives ended after we raised children, we want to feel like active members in the community who have the right to enjoy life.”
Mustafa herself faced the same problem when her daughter grew up. “Like most members of this group, I was busy all the time raising my daughter. I used to work as an Arabic teacher, but I quit my job because I wanted to be fully dedicated to her and take care of her needs. When our children grew up and got busy with their lives, we ended up having a lot of free time and we did not know what to do with it. We cannot go back to work, as most of us have reached retirement age and throughout the years we grew apart from our old friends,” says Mustafa.
Mustafa, who is a regular Facebook user, discussed with her daughter the idea of creating a group for older people on the social networking site to try to reach people of her age that she knows would like to occupy their free time and to meet new people. “I thought to myself, why don’t we all come together and start a new life. I am sure that there are many people out there thinking the same and want to live their lives happily, because we all still have the energy to do so. I wanted to help myself and help other people like me.” Mustafa’s daughter, Nada, was supportive of the initiative and encouraged her mother to start the group, offering to help her with the technicalities. “I have a friend who is in his thirties and works in advertising in the UAE. When I told him about the idea, he got very excited and after two days, he sent me some designs for the group’s logo, and I chose one of them. At that moment, I felt that it was becoming more serious and that I should be up to the responsibility,” adds Mustafa.
While she initially had modest expectations of the group’s reach, it has now achieved an impressive 1,200 in number, and is successfully providing a space for sharing ideas, discussion and interaction among seniors. “On the day we launched the group, I was hoping that we would reach 50 members. But we received so many requests to join the group. I was very happy that people saw the importance of such an initiative and that they are interested in the idea,” she says. She also reveals that many of the members are actually quite young, in their 20s or 30s, and join on behalf of their parents who do not have Facebook accounts. “Although the number  helps us clarify our goal, the group is open to any person who is interested in the idea for a personal reason or to help someone they know or because they are interested in volunteering and being in contact with other people. All people who share our values and believe that this group has the right to live in dignity are welcomed,” says Mustafa, who adds that some of the younger members joined because they are feeling lonely and want to make friends.
“The younger members are very enthusiastic, they send us messages to encourage us and to tell us that we helped them by creating a space for them to volunteer and support the older people. Through the group, they learned that they need to take better care of their parents and the elders in their family,” Mustafa elaborates.
A growing community
“My daughter was the one who found the group on Facebook. She was so excited about it, so she encouraged me to join,” says member Fatma Ali Gharaba who recalls how she really enjoyed the first event. “I met new people and made new friends. I was so happy and relaxed with them,” says Gharaba. The group’s first activity was held in Glim, Alexandria, where members met for a walk on the beach with their sons and daughters before heading to a café for breakfast. They later posted their photographs together on the group page.
“When they then announced the educational seminar to raise awareness on diabetes, I was very keen to join and attend,” Gharaba adds. “I felt a sense of familiarity with the other members, like we had known each other for a long time, because we share the same experiences and circumstances. We all need support to overcome the boredom that we were living in.”
Since that day, the group began to walk on the beach together every morning for one hour, goes swimming every week and practices water aerobics. They also plan to hold social interventions such as raising money for and visiting elderly homes. “I want the group to thrive, and for more people to join. This online connection is a first step and Facebook allowed us to be organized and connected; when I am away for a couple of days, the members ask about me and they feel my absence. Yet, the more important element is the activities we organize. For example, we want to start a book club to exchange and discuss books among us,” says Amina Mohammed Soliman, a member from Alexandria.
On the group, members post information about activities and social events. They also have a space to anonymously send a problem for discussion in the group, “When we receive the problem, we post it on the group page anonymously and the members comment or advise based on their personal experience. None of us are specialized, but we are here for each other,” says Mustafa. The group also includes a space for members to suggest activities or social events, “Any group member can suggest a place to visit or an event that we can attend together as a group,” she continues, noting a suggestion by one member that they celebrate birthdays together at the end of every month.
“I was so excited to find a space where people can understand the daily struggles that we face. . . . We are not sick, it is not about our physical health, but we are bored and we want to be happy. Our children are busy, but with this group we are also busy taking care of ourselves and finding ways to change the routine in our lives,” says Fawzia Khaled, another member from Alexandria. “The group impacted our psychological wellbeing, when we think together and plan for any activity, whether it is a walk on the beach or to visit an orphanage, we just feel that our life has a meaning,” she adds.
Suzy Dabour agrees. “When I joined the group, I just felt that the spirit of the group is very similar to my own. The members look for ways to enjoy their life and to live happily. The activities are very beneficial as they provide us with the opportunity to make new friends after we spent the majority of our lives taking care of our kids and their needs,” she says. “Through the group, I want to experience everything that I was not able to do when I was younger. I want to walk on the beach, laugh and visit the places that I did not visit before and I want to ride a bicycle.”
“Our happiness will reflect on our psychology and on our families. Being together in this group will help us get over the fear of being alone and the fear of growing older, especially when we see lonely people around us,” Dabour continues. “The group showed us that we need to take better care of our parents, who definitely are feeling the same, and it has helped our kids to feel there is no need to worry about us.” In the near future the group will be expanding outside Alexandria, with members from Ismailia and Cairo planning to organize weekly activities similar to the activities organized in Alexandria. “They are very excited about the idea,’ says Mustafa. “I am very glad that many are responsive and that more people will get connected to support each other.”