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Jan 20, 2022

COVID Chronicles: Senior Citizens Get Their Internet Groove On

The elderly population is among the most vulnerable when it comes to the COVID-19 virus. That is why major efforts have been made to safe guard this population through vaccines and isolation. But, any person within this demographic, or Belizeans at large, knows all too well the stresses that come with being isolated during lockdowns, or just staying home to avoid exposure. But, any type of human interaction helps to ease this burden, which is why social media platforms and communication apps like WhatsApp, Messenger, and Zoom have become even more popular over the last two years. But, are older folks being left behind in this fast sweeping digital wave, and what more can be done to bridge this digital literacy gap? News Five’s Paul Lopez takes a closer look in this week’s COVID chronicles.  


Being isolated for long periods can take a significant toll on anyone’s social life, but if you are elderly it can be even more difficult.  This is where technology, digital literacy to be exact, can play a role to help maintain connections with loved ones, friends, community groups, current news and even provide entertainment.


Paul Lopez

“What does an elderly person, what sort of business they have being on Facebook, Instagram, sometimes I look and I see Don Pablo on Facebook. What is he doing on Facebook, he is like seventy two years old?”


Ix-Chel Pott, Executive Director, National Council on Ageing

“But, why shouldn’t Don Pablo be on Facebook? Everything is happening on Facebook. All the sales are happening on Facebook. All the music videos are launching on the Facebook. All the sales are on Facebook. All the news items are coming out on Facebook. Don Pablo needs to be on Facebook otherwise he will be left behind. For older people, the disruption in their lives for what has happened with COVID has created huge pockets of isolations, of being left alone, of being broken from their society.”


Ix-Chel Pott and the Council on Ageing has been partnering with CITO to expand digital literacy among the elderly population in Belize.


Ix-Chel Pott

Ix-Chel Pott, Executive Director, Council on Ageing

“One of the things the Council did, over the last two years, we have been running digital literacy courses with the support of CITO. CITO really came on board for us, through their training unit, Ms. Delsy Ku and Officer Sherene Rivero, they developed a very basic curriculum which looks at how we increase the digital literacy of elderly persons and maintain their safety.”


The online modules teach those who have never done it before to set up their email address, use the popular social media platforms, shop online, pay bills and do  online banking—even how to detect scams. The Belize Cancer Society, Belmopan Branch, took advantage of this training after quickly discovering their membership was having a hard time transitioning to online Zoom meetings.


Rodney Neal

Rodney Neal, Former President, B.C.S. Belmopan Branch

“Since we had decided that we would conduct all our business virtually, all our meetings virtually we knew that it was important. And, when we saw all the problems that some members were having, when we would have a meeting and they would say, well I can’t get in. Or, I get in but you know my phone run hot, and all sort of things, we said let’s see if we could make it possible so that everyone could participate.”


Most older people may not set out to become Tik-Tok famous, or Instagram influencers, but some find themselves having fun and developing followers. But the average person is simply seeking to navigate the internet and new forms of communication easily.  If you are selecting a device for yourself or a loved one,  Pott recommends you take screen size and visibility into consideration. A tablet sized touch screen is ideal. Still, some prefer the simplicity of a flip phone.  But whatever device or program, ultimately it is social in social media is what matters most.


Ixchel Pott, Executive Director, Council on Ageing

“I am in a WhatsApp group for a Senior Steps Club, and those ladies do all kind of things that I have no idea how they do it. And, they are more active than some of my other groups. They encourage each other. They are polite. They share the happenings. I think yesterday they all tapped into a journey-cake sale somewhere, and everybody they were coordinating who is picking up for who, and what happening where. They are maintaining a sense of community. Now imagine if these older persons didn’t have access to WhatsApp, the Internet, what would be their alternative now that everything has changed?”


Reporting for News Five I am Paul Lopez.


And as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, giving people of all ages access virtual platforms matters even more. So today, reach out to someone you think might be feeling isolated. Add them to your group, or show them how to connect to what interests them most, and to the people they want to talk to.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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