When Maria Rosario Del Carpio, a social work graduate student, testified to the Peruvian General Assembly earlier this year about the importance of supportive services for senior citizens, it was the culmination of a long personal journey. “I started in social work, and then worked as a lawyer, for the Peruvian government for about 16 years,” she said. “But when the government changed, I came to the U.S. seeking asylum from political persecution. I couldn’t speak a word of English, but through the years, I met so many kind people who helped me. I learned the language and worked hard to improve my life, eventually returning to social work.”
Del Carpio wanted to do something international, leveraging the relationships she still held in Peru. “One of my connections is with Dr. Gustavo Rondon Fudinaga, a member of the General Assembly’s Health Committee,” she said. “He was interested in how we in the U.S. work with the elderly, because in Peru we don’t have fully-developed laws and policies to protect this growing population.”
Building on her work with elderly Pennsylvanians in Lancaster County, Del Carpio put together a presentation that would help support her testimony, showing the sheer financial impact of poor health among senior citizens, which amounts to more than $1 trillion in the U.S. each year. “My research showed that Lancaster is the actually the best place to grow old in Pennsylvania, due to the variety of services available. My presentation was primarily educational, showing how policies and programs we have in this country and in Pennsylvania can be adapted to benefit the elderly in Peru.”
One of the biggest obstacles to improving those services is the lack of funding. “Peru simply doesn’t have money allocated for this,” Del Carpio said. “So they were particularly interested in how we fund these kinds of programs.” One strategy that grabbed the Assembly’s interest was the Pennsylvania Lottery, which in 2014 alone raised more than $1 billion for the state’s elderly. Through her presentation, Del Carpio showed how each dollar generated from the lottery is spent, and the kinds of services the Lottery funds, from home health aides to transportation and food assistance.
Del Carpio will graduate this May. When she thinks about the past 12 years, she’s hopeful what she’s learned as a social worker in the U.S. will spur long-needed changes in how Peru supports its aging population. “This country opened the door for and me and my two kids 12 years ago. I was a single mother at the time. So I wanted to give back to the people who helped me, not just here in the U.S. but in Peru as well.”