Old age is something that none of us can avoid. But once wrinkles appear on your skin, you are regarded as a 'burdened being'. It is that time of their life when they would like to see grandchildren playing around and enjoying their twilight years in peace. But a majority of them unfortunately end up at an alien 'home' depending on others to spend their passing day.
Statistics show that the population above the age of 60 years was 2.5 million in 2012 which is 12.5% of the total population. However it has been projected that Sri Lanka would have an elderly population of about 3.6 million by 2021, which is 16.7% of the total population and by 2041, one-quarter of the population would be elderly.
Bearing this in mind, Life Online visited a few elders' homes situated in the outskirts of Colombo, to find out their necessities while also speaking to a few residents.
Lady Fareed Home for Elders
The Lady Fareed Home for Elders is located in Makola. Initiated back in 1957, the land was donated by Miss Amina Fareed to establish an elders' home. 50 years later the present establishment was built and was opened in 2007. Currently it houses 20 residents and the management expects to include another three to four residents in future. The home is dedicated for elders who belong to the Islamic faith who don't have anyone to take care of them. Inside the home, the residents were having a chat when we visited the place.
We sat down to speak to a few of them and this is what they had to say:
Latheefa has been at this place for two years. "My husband and two daughters are in Bangladesh. When my husband goes to work he gets late to come, and I usually end up alone at home. Even servants won't stay the whole day. So once they went to Bangladesh, I decided to come and stay here. When they come back to Sri Lanka, I go and stay with them. Some parents don't have anyone to look after them so it's good to have elders' homes like this."
Saba has been a resident at this home for three years. "Before that I was in Singapore. One of my friends wanted me to look after her daughter. But once my work was done they got me to be here. When they want me they take me back to Singapore. I always want to spend my day very actively and the management at this home takes very good care of us. I have heard of instances when elders are forcibly sent to elders homes and I think it's not good because not all parents would like that."
Mohamed is a patient suffering from a brain tumour. "I have been here for four years and I should say that the staff here is very attentive. They take good care of us. My relatives brought me here because of my illness. There are times when children have to get rid of elders. So what can we do about it?"
Aloka Elders' Home, Panadura
We visited the Aloka Elders' Home in Panadura, which houses close to 57 residents.
Speaking to Life Online, its caretaker and owner Piyal Fernando said that he wanted to do something in return for elders who are left to wander on the streets.
"Our parents do a lot for us and they shouldn't end up in this way. Children may have priorities but it is highly unacceptable to see children abandoning their parents. All elders need necessary attention once they grow old. Once they are dumped in to an elders' home they have to follow the same routine every day. We have had residents who were mothers to 10 - 15 children but on their deathbed none of these children even bothered to come and pay their last respects. This is the society that we live in today."
Speaking further, Piyal said that they take in people through the divisional secretariat and also those who are brought in by their children due to various reasons. "In most instances parents cannot live with in-laws and therefore their own children sometimes take the option of 'getting rid' of their parents. There are so many necessities at this place."
The space can accommodate only 35 residents but there are 57 residents and there are more to come in the pending list. "Therefore we would like to request for financial donations and would appreciate if people could volunteer and upgrade the facilities for the residents," said Piyal.
While walking around the premises we also spoke to a few residents.
Somawathi is one resident who doesn't have any relatives. She says that her hometown is Matara and she came to this elders' home through a gentleman she met at a hospital. "I don't have any children. The staff here takes good care of us and I'm happy to stay here."
Arthur's is a heartbreaking story. He was found on the street with a sore wound in his leg. Once cured, he was sent to the Aloka Elders' Home. Since his belongings were missing and he didn't know his name, the staff had named him Arthur. Speaking to us, Arthur said that the staff was taking good care of him. "My day just goes by. Sometimes I listen to bana or I sleep. There's nothing much to do here."
Soma is another lady who has decided to spend the rest of her life at the elders' home.
"I have many relatives but once my husband passed away, they never asked me to stay. But they treated me well. Since they didn't ask me to stay I didn't want to be a burden to them. I have been teaching at a Dhamma school for 30 long years. Since I knew about this elders' home, I informed the monk there and decided to come here. I have an injury and therefore cannot walk too far. So they built a separate room for me and now I'm happy here. I believe that this society is not getting any better. A majority of the residents here have ended up at this place because of their in-laws. So I don't regret not having any children of my own. This was my own decision and if this home didn't exist, where would I have gone?"
If you wish to make a contribution to this home, the bank details are as follows:
Account Name: Aloka Human Development Trust
Account Number: 148-2-001-7-0016389
Bank: People's Bank, Panadura Branch
For inquiries, please call on 0714788556.
David Jayasundera Home for Elders
The David Jayasundera Home for Elders is another home situated in Panadura. Moving out of the conventional elders' home concept, this place also houses mentally challenged individuals and disabled individuals as well. This place doesn't receive many donations and at present it can only accommodate 17 residents. The management requests humble donors to contribute dry rations, cooked meals and financial donations as much as possible to look after the elders.
A few residents also shared their stories with us.
D. R Indurangala is a resident from Dehiwela.
"I have been here for 10 years. I have three children and since I had family issues I was sent to this place. The people here take good care of us and I usually spend the day reading books or meditating. Society has changed so much that today children don't take care of their parents. But it shouldn't be so. Parents did everything for children in their younger days but why treat parents this way when they grow old?"
Mrs. Jayatilleke is another lady who has decided to spend the latter part of her life alone. "So I asked my daughter to bring me here. Sometimes children change when they marry. We can't interfere in to their lives so this life is better. I will live for a few years more but my children have to live and succeed in life. That is my only wish."
The bank account details for David Jayasundera Home is as follows:
Account Name: David Jayasundera Home for Elders
Account Number: 680360
Bank: Bank of Ceylon, Katubedda Branch
For inquiries, please call on 0779570515.
Moratuwa Social Service Society
The 'Jana Adara' Moratuwa Social Service Society, was inaugurated by the Holy Emmanuel Church Senior Guild back in July 1919. Through this, the Moratuwa Social Service Society was commenced in March 1990 by taking in seven destitute elders. Today this home provides tender loving care for 150 residents affording them the opportunity to spend the latter part of their lives at a 'home away from home'. Admission to this home is done through a selection process according to accommodation available by the committee elected for the purpose.
We decided to speak to a few residents in this home as well and this is what they had to say.
Mr. and Mrs. Wijeratne have been at this home for the past two and a half months. Mrs. Wijeratne says that they have been aware of this home for some time. "We have three children, two sons and a daughter. We used to be with our son but he didn't treat us well. So we rented a room in Katubedda and stayed there. Then we came to this place. As at this moment, our daughter hasn't visited us at all. Our second son came once and he asked us to come back and not to embarrass the family. I don't think we embarrassed anyone because if children cannot look after us, we also need to have another option."
Dayawathi is another resident who has been at the home for less than a month. "My hometown is in Vavuniya and I am a kidney patient. The hospital doesn't have much facilities and it is quite tedious to go back and forth. I get treatments at the Panadura Hospital and therefore I asked my children to keep me here. I always remember them but my illness has kept me from seeing them."
PHOTOGRAPHS by Samantha Perera & Zeeshan Akram Jabeer