Dreams Never Get Old
Taiwan has the lowest birth rate in the world. The elderly current account for 10 percent of the population, and the government forecasts this will rise to 42 percent within 50 years. The aging population is a phenomenon of worldwide concern, and Taiwan's society is the most rapidly aging among all nations. While many view the welfare of this increasing number of senior citizens as a challenge, JTI Taiwan sees a wealth of vitality and affirmation in their lives.
Inspired by the Hondao Senior Citizens Welfare Foundation, JTI Taiwan has since 2010 supported the "Dreams Never Get Old" program. This initiative demonstrates to the world the vigor and decisiveness with which the elderly can still pursue their dreams. As a result, JTI Taiwan has been involved in fulfilling 38 different "dreams" for 1,482 seniors – enriching the lives of everyone involved – with 198 JTI employees putting in 11,069 hours of volunteering during 2012 alone.
"The more we give, the more we gain". During the process of realizing these seniors' dreams, JTI volunteers arguably learned as much about themselves as those they were helping. For example, while working with the elderly to compile their "Life Journals", volunteers had the opportunity to reflect on their own lives and relationships, asking themselves questions such as: how many truly good friends do I have? How should I treat my elders? When I grow old, what dreams will I have?
Many of the volunteers who practiced baseball with the seniors bonded through the experience, and this positive sense of "connectivity" has been evident in the workplace. The seniors' infectious enthusiasm begs the question as to which group was contributing most to the experience overall!
The first community dream opened in July 2012 with the "Elders" Baseball Dream' – at which one senior remarked: "I feel younger now than I did a year ago!" Meanwhile, the Life Journal concept is a two-stage journey through which senior citizens record their reminiscences. First, elders receive 11 weeks of counselling, during which they learn to express their feelings. In the second, JTI employees guide elders in the creation of ‘Life Journals' based on these feelings – allowing volunteers to engage with the aspirations of the elders they work alongside.
Experience suggests the majority of seniors have the courage to look positively at the opportunities their own lives still provide. A good example is the second joint Hondao-JTI-Cruise Rider Club event. This saw nearly 60 American choppers assembled to fulfil 46 seniors' aspiration to tour Taiwan's east coast on classic machines. The seniors seemed as giddy as children as they lived out their dreams in truly impressive style. They also expressed their sincere gratitude, with one elderly lady texting a JTI volunteer with these touching words: " You are the same age as my son: and I feel you have done as much for me – I have wonderful memories that I will treasure forever. "
The Hondao Foundation is also developing a new "Active Aging" program that aims to build a network of aid association units enabling the elderly to live comfortably in their own homes by providing them with the physical and psychological support to do so. A mini-truck has been touring Taiwan to promote the concept of "Aging with Vitality". JTI Taiwan believes this initiative will complement "Dreams Never Get Old" – and will make a real and measurable difference to the wellbeing of this community over the longer term.
Meanwhile, JTI Taiwan is supporting a "Dreams Never Get Old" Photography Exhibition in Taipei and Taichung. Themed around the message 'We Shall' to emphasize the commitment to act decisively to promote the welfare of our senior citizens, it encourages visitors to plant the seed of 'We Shall' together: allowing this community to realize their dreams by respecting, listening to, believing in and supporting them.
JTI Taiwan believes this campaign will see the wider adoption of a "We Shall" approach – one that can only lead to more smiles on our seniors' faces in the years to come.