Your small donation can buy them dignity
In an ideal world, Vijay Merchant, 72, would have been playing with his grandchildren and basking in his family's affection. Instead, he worked days as a clerk at a chartered accountancy firm and spent his nights in the corridor of a Mumbai chawl, where he lived till his daughter threw him out in March 2009.
He approached the police, but they were of little help. For months, he took refuge at night in the Mumbai Central Railway platform till a couple of friends introduced him to Dignity Foundation. However, the Mira Road (a Mumbai suburb) rehabilitation home proved to be too far for him to commute to his office in Marine Lines.
Today, though Merchant continues to be in dire straits, he knows he is not without support. Dignity is helping him fight his battles, with a lawyer associated with the NGO offering pro bono services in filing a case against his daughter in court.
While we could ponder for hours on what triggers cruelty towards elders, the reverse instinct is perhaps easier to analyse.
Consider Kalyani Sahasrabuddhe, 41. Owner of a printing press, she was devastated when her father, a victim of Alzheimer's disease, died in 2006. After coming to terms with her grief, she decided to sign up with Dignity Foundation, caring for elderly patients of dementia.
Sahasrabuddhe says: "I spend five days a week at the foundation. We work to improve the quality of life for the dementia-affected. It could be something as simple as conversing with them, or helping them eat or walk. We celebrate birthdays and festivals, and promote personal interaction." She adds, "I miss my father a lot, but spending time at Dignity is immensely rewarding for me."
Image: Senior citizens at the Dignity Foundation office
'It requires willingness to serve'
Says Shobha Nair, spokesperson and editor of Dignity Dialogue, the foundation's monthly magazine: "Ahead of volunteering at Dignity Dementia Care (where Sahasrabuddhe provides her services), we need people to train with us. It helps them understand the disease and the basics of patient care, physical and psychological."
Volunteers also need to undergo psychological analysis themselves, to check if he or she can deal with the responsibility. It is a stressful job: volunteers have to have empathy and maturity to handle the different mood swings. It's a very serious commitment.
To ensure elderly care is not a passing fancy, Dignity also needs its volunteers to become a member of the organisation by paying Rs 1,000 as a one-time fee.
"We express a preference for volunteers aged 50 and above as we feel they understand geriatric needs better and can also spare more time," says Nair. But what is really the major factor is willingness to serve. It is important that the volunteer's ethos matches with that of Dignity Foundation.
You can make a huge difference to the life of the elderly
Other than dementia care, elderly-focused NGOs can use donations and voluntary services in many ways. The sum of Rs 675, given to the Association for Sustainable Community Development, Chennai, can buy an old man or woman a pair of spectacles. A cheque for Rs 1,650 to the Economic Rural Development Society, Kolkata, will take care of a month's groceries, clothing and basic medical care for one elderly person.
A donation of Rs 1,800 will sponsor a cataract operation at Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra, Jharkhand. A sum of Rs 5,000 will help the Women's Emancipation and Development Trust, Madurai, set up a destitute woman in goat-rearing. You can even take care of a deceased destitute by donating Rs 2,500 for the last rites at Sevalaya, Chennai.
If time is what you have to offer, Dignity offers several options:
You will need to handle phone calls from the elderly with patience and decisiveness. Good communication skills are a must-such as those possessed by retired banker M.P. Namjoshi, 69, who has been handling the helpline for 13 years now.
You can spend a few hours a week with a lonely senior citizen, reading to or listening to them, or escorting them to social functions. Dignity will try and set you up with a 'ward' in your locality.
"I worked as senior manager with the Reserve Bank of India till 2003, but providing company to a 80-year-old poet, talking and reading to her, was undoubtedly the most fulfilling experience of my life," says Shobana Ved, 61.
You could be where they are today!
Senior Citizens' ID Card Centre
Every senior citizen in Maharashtra is eligible for a state ID card, containing vital details. Volunteers can answer queries, accept and check completed forms and dispatch them. Pramila Jhaveri, 77, has been working in this section for four years now.
Dignity Civic Service
If you'd like to work in a team to make a difference to your locality, consider this mission which focuses on making our cities cleaner.
Dignity Home Computer Training
As a volunteer, you can teach the elderly how to use computers, and help them navigate the Internet to get in touch with their loved ones who may be living elsewhere.
After all, one day, you could be where they are today.
Where to go
Name of NGO
Association for Sustainable Community Development
Economic Rural Development Society
Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra
Women's Emancipation and Development Trust
Source for all NGOs other than Dignity Foundation: www.giveindia.com