Aging in Japan and Across Asia

Forging Intergenerational Links in Vietnam


In Vietnam, which lacks an adequate social welfare system, informal community-based activities play a major role in the well-being of elderly residents. The Intergenerational Self-Help Club (ISHC) in Thanh Hóa province on Vietnam’s north central coast is one example.

Informal Community-Based Activities Adopted as Government Policy Toward Elderly Citizens

According to a survey by HelpAge International, an international NGO that provides support to elderly people, by the end of 2014 there were 779 Intergenerational Self-Help Clubs (ISHCs) active in Vietnam. In August 2016, ISHC activity was formally recognized and adopted into government policy as a model for elderly welfare and serves as a positive example of a bottom-up initiative. This article introduces some of the unique characteristics I noted on a visit to one such club.

The ISHC in Thanh Hóa province, Vietnam.

Free Residential Care through Community-based Club Activities

The ISHC in Thanh Hóa Province on Vietnam’s north central coast is one of the country’s oldest. It currently has 61 members that span several generations, the oldest being over 90 and the youngest not yet 50. A group of six members are assigned as volunteer carers that help look after four elderly people in need of care in the community. As part of the club’s activities volunteers take turns providing care services three times a week, including family support and helping with chores.

In countries like Japan that have long-term care insurance schemes, the use of paid home assistance is the norm. But in those where such systems do not exist, home helper dispatch—particularly outside main urban centers—is an innovative initiative. Moreover, the ISHC’s service is free. One recipient who asked to be identified as N. gave glowing praise to the support ISHC members provide her partially paralyzed 91 year old mother-in-law: “Every so often they all come to help with the housework or listen to our concerns about her care. They are an enormous help to us.” As the financial, economic, and physical burden on  family carers increasingly becomes a topic of discussion in many aging societies, Vietnam’s ISHCs offer a community-based solution for supporting those in need.

The multigenerational ISHC management team.

An Emphasis on Social Participation and Quality of Life

Financial issues facing elderly people, including poverty and bankruptcy, are of growing concern. To address these problems, ISHCs also run programs designed to support entrepreneurs of any age who want to work. The ISHC in Thanh Hóa provides assistance in the form of microcredit loans and other services to club members along with non-financial assistance, including technical support from members experienced in starting businesses. These efforts have proved successful, with one entrepreneur even raising their annual income to 1 billion dong (approximately $45,000 US).

The ISHC also promotes health and improved quality of life for elderly people with programs designed around their social participation, including morning exercise sessions and cultural and artistic activities.

As noted in an earlier article, quality of life depends on each individual’s measurement of happiness. The ISHC’s model provides for intergenerational support within the same community, a great assurance for elderly people and significant with respect to their improved quality of life. In particular, the model promotes a reciprocal effect within the community and builds deep community bonds by allowing club members to provide assistance to those in need while they are still active, and then allow them to receive care free of charge when they require it themselves. The activities of ISHCs in Vietnam have implications for other countries to revitalize their communities and make use of local resources to address issues facing their aging populations.

A sing-along at the ISHC.

The Issues and Implications of Aging Asian Population Project (Global Frontier Fund, Sasakawa Peace Foundation)

(Originally written in Japanese. Banner photo: Group exercise with the ISHC in Thanh Hóa province. Photos courtesy of Doi Yoshinori.)

Asia Vietnam aging SPF