Supporting Rapid Needs Assessments in Venezuela: HPC Fellow, Mary Dimitrov

Mary Dimitrov is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow working with HelpAge USA. At HelpAge USA, Mary developed content including thought leadership pieces, briefs, and various communications assets to further HelpAge USA’s mission. Read on to learn about her placement as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow.

If you have not already experienced a disadvantage because of prejudice, just wait — you will.

Everyone who is fortunate enough to live into older age will join a group of people that faces constant discrimination solely based on their age, regardless of other factors.

When I started my work at HelpAge USA, unlike many other prejudices, I knew little about ageism and admittedly even accepted it in some situations. After my fellowship, I realize that like all the other prejudices we have, ageism is harmful. And, with the world soon experiencing the greatest demographic shift in history, with more people over sixty than under ten, denying ageism and addressing older people’s needs is more important than ever.

My work at HelpAge USA enabled me to draw upon my Journalism and Public Policy double major. I developed content including thought leadership pieces, briefs, and various communications assets with the hope our audience would realize HelpAge USA’s message: that everyone deserves a dignified, healthy, secure life regardless of their age. We want others to join our mission to address the needs of older people around the world by working with them.

Through these projects I have gained tremendous respect for not just what HelpAge USA supports, but also how they do so — especially from a Public Policy perspective. My favorite project, writing a funding request to support a Rapid Needs Assessment in Venezuela, exemplifies why HelpAge USA’s work is so necessary and why our method of working directly with older people — not just for them — is uniquely effective.

Venezuela faces a dramatic humanitarian and refugee crisis in the wake of a political crisis. Mismanagement has increased, employment and salaries have plummeted, basic services are no longer being provided. Peoples’ lifesavings have been reduced to nothing as inflation is projected to grow to ten million percent this year, up from 112 percent in 2015.

For the RNA request, I explained to potential donors how in this crisis, and all crisis’ of this magnitude, older people face heightened health and security risks; for example, more older people die of malnutrition and respiratory diseases than any other age group, including children under 15. 

From being exposed to the multitude of emergency planning and responses HelpAge USA is involved with, like in South Sudan, Syria, Malawi, and Indonesia, I learned these challenges are rarely accounted for. For example, in Yemen during the Civil War, 50 percent of older women and 60 percent of older men were unable to access healthcare, and 90 percent of older people didn’t have access to any income. One of the HelpAge International studies I analyzed during my internship showed that less than one percent of humanitarian aid targets older people or people with disabilities.

Often relief efforts aren’t targeted to older people because little is known about their challenges in a crisis. International and national surveys, such as the Demographic Health Survey, remain age-capped. Further, older people are frequently consolidated into a 65 plus age group, which does not consider people’s different issues at different stages of later life, leaving their experiences invisible and poorly understood.

What is so profound to me is that our Rapid Needs Assessments bridges this gap in humanitarian assistance by directly speaking with and interviewing older people in areas of humanitarian crisis. Through my public policy studies at the University of Maryland I have learned that fully assessing the situation and understanding the problem is a crucial step to creating a public policy solution. The funding request that I wrote will allow HelpAge USA to get the funding they need to take this first crucial step in the process to help older Venezuelans in need.

The feedback obtained through the Rapid Needs Assessments is then used to create solutions to older people’s problems. When summarizing these solutions and writing summaries of those personally affected by Rapid Needs Assessments, I feel grateful for that the Hilton Prize Coalition and HelpAge USA allowed me to play a role in helping older people in need.

I am so appreciative of this opportunity and the continued support I received from both the Hilton Prize Coalition and HelpAge USA throughout the fellowship. I appreciate their involvement in allowing me to further my experience with Journalism and Public Policy and helping me become a better humanitarian by exposing me to issues that I don’t think I would have otherwise, or at least until I (hopefully) reach old age.

It is my hope that my work at HelpAge USA allows other people to become more aware of this issue and inspires them to take action towards solving what is, in my opinion, an underrepresented issue.

About the Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the  Fellows Program, the  Collaborative Models Program  and the  Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit, or contact Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and  LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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