Australia’s first Nigerian seniors club is giving its members a chance to connect, support each other and celebrate the joys of life.
The new Nigerian Senior Citizens Club of Victoria champions healthy ageing by encouraging its members to take part in workshops and social activities, and, of course, chat over a dish of traditional Nigerian food.
The Nigerian community has a proud history in Australia, with the first significant wave of migration beginning in the mid-1960s. As the population of Nigerian seniors in Victoria has grown over time, so too has their need for a group that caters to their interests, says the club’s president Ayo Odigie.
The club was officially launched in May this year at a gala dinner in Oakleigh, which was well-attended by a diversity of community leaders, including ECCV Board Members Abiola Akinbiyi and Dr Medha Gunawardana, as well as Victorian Multicultural Commissioner Mohamed Mohideen OAM.
The club meets every few months at a member’s house. “The reason for holding meetings at the homes of members is because hosting your peers is morale boosting,” Ayo says. “This has given us the opportunity to get to know ourselves better and to socialise in a more relaxed setting.”
Nigerian dishes are a staple of these meetings. Last month, seniors Bola Adeoba and Ola Ope graciously welcomed guests. On the menu at the August meeting was jollof rice, fufu, and deep-fried bean cakes called akara.
The club also organises information sessions to help members access government services and other educational opportunities.
“Our in-person meetings usually include an information sharing session on a topic that we consider relevant to our members,” Ayo says.
One session was about nurturing positive mental health, led by the former RMIT University professor, Michael Olasoji. Club members also participated in an ECCV information session about elder abuse.
The club’s roots trace back to 2018, when its founders, Dr Moses Adepoju and Nze Nkem Anele, saw the challenges Nigerian seniors were experiencing in their adopted homeland.
“They [Adepoju and Nkem Anele] observed that a sizeable number of senior migrants have gradually withdrawn from the main Nigerian society of Victoria,” Ayo says. “It was suggested that a dedicated seniors club would provide an avenue for them to socialise [and] to avoid being isolated, as their children start focusing on their own lives.”
Social isolation is a common issue among older adults that can have adverse effects on their physical and mental health. “The major potential challenge we envisage for our members is social isolation as their children grow up and settle down to their own families,” Ayo says.
“With many of our members still active in the workforce, they are still able to interact with professional contacts. However, we have a few members who are no longer active in the workforce and whose children have moved away from home.”
Despite these challenges, Ayo says the seniors aren’t likely to reach out for support due to their cultural values.
“We were raised to be strong and maintain dignity,” she says. “That introduces the challenge of supporting them without making them feel that they are a burden to their friends and the community at large. To maintain the required dignity and privacy, we have reached out to them through their close friends.”
Starting a club
The Nigerian Senior Citizens Club’s inaugural meeting took place in 2021, where an executive committee was elected, marking the formal launch of the club.
One of the challenges associated with starting – and continuing – a seniors’ club is getting people involved and motivated, Ayo explains. “This might be due to the fact that most Nigerians that fall into the category of [our] membership are still in the workforce. As such, it appears it might be difficult to move things along due to time constraints.”
Ayo says WhatsApp was used to inform seniors about their club. “Members sought out other members of the Nigerian community who fall into that demographic and invited them to the WhatsApp platform,” she says.
So, what do seniors need to consider when launching their own club? “The advice we might give to other seniors who plan to form such groups is to consult widely,” Ayo says. “Start by identifying the potential members and get them to start interacting informally before formalising the club.”
The Nigerian group now has its sights set on organising more excursions and programs in 2024.
“We agreed at the last meeting to start discussing end-of-life arrangements,” Ayo says. “Our cultural background does not encourage such discussions. We want to start discussing things like advanced care plans, wills and funerals.”
Also on the agenda is eventually finding a new meeting spot to accommodate their growing membership, Ayo says.
“We are working on expanding the club … then we have to seek a central place to have our meetings. We will play it by the ear as our numbers grow.”