The getting of wisdom and passing it down to the next generations

Dr. Apollo S. Nsubuga-Kyobe

When describing the importance of community elders imparting their wisdom and experience to younger generations, Dr Apollo S. Nsubuga-Kyobe turns to the Ubuntu philosophy.

Ubuntu from the Nguni language has several definitions, and at the heart of each definition is the connectedness that exists or should exist between people. Apollo sees the handing down of wisdom from older to younger generations as one of the Ubuntu values of connecting with each other in ways that benefit and grow the community.

Apollo, 67, a university lecturer in Management at La Trobe University and vice-chair of the African Think Tank, is excited by harnessing the experience of older Africans like himself - who have decades of experience of living in Australia – in helping to create inclusive and sustainable economic and social opportunities for Victorians of African heritage.

Growing up in Bweruga, a village in southern Uganda, Apollo was immersed in a culture where the older people in the village were seen as sources of wisdom.

Similar to other waves of migration, the African communities’ integration into Victoria has presented some challenges, particularly for our young people, he says. For some communities that can mean that some traditions - such as the role of elders are disrupted.

That’s where I see the Ubuntu philosophy as a pathway for teaching young people the value system of respect for humanity and the value of structures that enhance and strengthen each other for the betterment of all.

When you have the knowledge of older people – the way they have seen the world – it’s important to have systems and structures that can impart that knowledge in a humanistic way that forgives and respects and improves.

This handing down of wisdom; the passing down of this repository of knowledge through storytelling, mentoring and role modelling can benefit and strengthen all communities and not just African communities.

Apollo has fond memories of hearing stories from community elders by the fire-side as a boy. He says today’s challenge for seniors is to find ways to deliver “fire-side wisdom” using modern communication styles that are relevant to young people.

That is today’s challenge whether we are in Australia or Africa – the challenge for older people is to understand how younger people work, what makes them tick, so we can more effectively pass on our wisdoms in a way they will understand and in a way that benefits them, he says.

There are two worlds – younger and older – and it’s important for us to always keep the bridge between the two open. That is our challenge as seniors or elders to find a way to pass on knowledge and experience and wisdom so we can be closer to the values of Ubuntu, which is behaving well towards others or acting in ways that benefit the community.

My elders passed on many stories with lessons on about how to be resilient, flexible, compassionate and understanding of others. These lessons became vital when I came to Australia as a young man to study.

Apollo says the gift of ageing has provided him with more vigour and excitement about the possibilities of change, of what can be done, not what can’t be done, to make the world a better place for everyone.

The father of five and grandfather of two, has no plans of retiring from anything – academia or advocacy.

I have to keep going because what this journey has shown me is that whatever I have done to drive change it is a drop in the ocean and that there is so much more to be done, Apollo says.

As long as I can keep putting one foot in front of the other, I want to continue to work collaboratively with people and groups and governments, not only for the needs of the African community but for the needs of humanity.

I am not thinking of sitting back and doing nothing when there is still so much to do. My biggest problem is how am I going to fit it all in.