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Senior citizens, also known as “people who are 60 years and above” by the Nepalese government, represent 6.5% of the national population as determined by Prof. Dr. Mrigendra Lal Singh in his book Ageing of the population of Nepal, Chapter 19 [1]. Over the years, the average lifespan of Nepali rose up to 72 years while it used to be of 28 years in 1954 [2] which inevitably resulted in a tremendous increase in the number of elderly people. 1,933,000 of elders who, according to Nepali tradition, should be looked after by their children and grand-children whose responsibility is to support them both morally and financially. However, this tradition of living together is slowly fading away as the young generation often chooses a westernised way of life. With the rise of individualism and career focus among young generation, a new phenomenon has started that Samjana Thapa calls “abandonment” in her Bachelor thesis [3]. In this context, abandonment refers to the relationship dynamic that occurs when an adult or a child voluntarily denies or ignores key responsibilities that some expects them to fulfil [4]. Indeed, over the past decade, it became common for young generation to leave their parents and grandparents behind to pursue their career. Many elders now struggle alone with health and economic issues [5].

Inside Birtamode’s Old Days Home

In order to tackle the abandonment of elders, the government founded in 1973 the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare Council and created the first elderly care home in Nepal. Since then non-governmental and private organisations have taken over and about 50 elderly care homes have emerged all over the country. Curious about the experience of elderly people in such social structures, we have decided to visit two elderly centres in Jhapa region. Birtamode’s Old Days Home and Jagat Guru Yogiraj Kamalnayan Aarcharya Assram (referred as Jagat Guru Ashram later on) located a few kilometres away from Birtamode, both pursue the same goal of offering shelter to elderly people. The way they do so, however, differs from one another. TWO ELDERLY CENTRES BEATING ABANDONMENT IN JHAPA REGION After a career as an officer in the Nepalese Brigade of the British Army, Bikram Limbu created in 2009 Birtamode’s Old Days Home, a non-governmental elderly care centre in the heart of town. For the past 9 years, he has been fully committed to directing the home. As a non-governmental structure, the centre doesn’t receive any financial support from the Nepalese state. It relies fully on the benevolence and generosity of local people from Birtamode’s area who not only donate their time and money but also provide essentials such as rice and clothes to the residents and staff members. Added to that, some residents over 70 years old receive an allowance of 2000 NRP per month from the Nepalese state that they use as pocket money

6-bed women dorm in Birtamode’s Old Days Home

As President Bikram Limbu explained to us, “most of them don’t know where the ashram is. They are brought here by caring neighbours, close relatives or, in the case of homeless individuals, by citizens who knew them closely.” Thanks to the help of the local community, Birtamode’s Old Days Home is now hosting 24 residents – its maximum capacity – men and women, ageing from 60 to 95 years old, and receives inquiries from 20 more! Each newcomer is given a bed in one of the shared dorms, gender-based, and gets to know the centre and its people. Similarly to Birtamode’s Old Days Home, Jagat Guru Ashram doesn’t rely on any governmental subsidies. The ashram is mostly financed by the savings of the residents and counts on the donations given by the surrounding local communities. It also benefits from the support of the international community as one representative of a North American social organisation comes once a year to provide the ashram with medicine, food, clothes, equipment and sometimes money. Founded between 1995 and 1996, the ashram hosts 53 Nepalese people, men and women, from any age or social background. The youngest resident is only 40 years old! Unlike common elderly centres, Jagat Guru Ashram is a religion-based shelter where the only requirements to get in are to follow Vaishnav branch of Hinduism and to build your own room within the estate. From cooking to gardening, worshipping Vishnu or taking care of the eldest inhabitants, each resident has a couple of duties to fulfil daily for the community to work well .

Resident of Birtamode’s Old Days Home

Both centres provide access to medical care as the advanced age of the residents makes it compulsory. For benign pathologies and if fit enough, the residents walk or take a bus to the nearby medical centre. Both elderly care homes also regularly welcome medical doctors and medical camps such as eye screening camps organised by Birtamode’s eye care centres. For more advanced pathologies however, the affected individuals are taken to the hospitals to get treated. Taking into consideration the low resources of their patients, Birtamode’s hospitals often meet 50% of the expenses. Apart from the physical care ensured by medical institutions, it is in the psychological health of their elders that elderly homes invest the most. They all share the belief of Pradeep Acharya [5]: “Above all the senior citizens should feel like seniors not old and obsolete.” HAPPY OLD DAYS FOR ALL With kids or without. With a full bank account or without a penny. People enter Birtamode’s Old Days Home and Jagat Guru Ashram willingly. They all have different stories but share the same goal: beat the loneliness of their situation.

Khardga Kumari surrounded by staff members and fellow residents in Birtamode’s Old Days Hom

“We didn’t have anything. They asked us to come here so we came and now we are happy” confesses Khardga Kumari, an 80 year old unmarried woman. Often rejected by their children, childless, homeless after the death of their husband who was providing for the entire family or simply wanting to escape the turmoil of a life with their children’s family, the residents all agree on the positive impact that elderly homes have on their lives. “I have kids but I chose to live in the ashram. I like being here because I have time for myself and company” admits a male resident of Birtamode’s Old Days Home. The multiple stress-free activities [5] give their tempos to each day. The residents can take part in card games, share long conversations with fellow elders, enjoy the visits of neighbours and family, or go for walks in the surrounding streets. The involvement in daily chores, mostly at Jagat Guru Ashram, makes the elders feel responsible, valued and capable. It also feeds the self-esteem they might have lost due to their past or the physical burden of ageing.

Shared laughters with visitors in Jagat Guru Ashram

The sense of community that arises from Dr homes gives their residents a place they belong to, along with a new purpose for their lives. They are not “just about to die” anymore. They are living so that tomorrow, they can have another long talk or animated card game with the family they have created for themselves. Happy and together.

[1] Prof. Dr. Mrigendra Lal Singh in his book Ageing of the population of Nepal, Chapter 19.

[2] Magar & Kumar, 2015, Nepalese are Living Longer, Nepali Times.

[3] Samjana Thapa, Bachelor Thesis, Abandonment of elderly people in Nepal, Elderly people’s perspective.

[4] Gerlach, P. K., 2015, Perspective on Parental Abandonment: Causes, Effects and Options. Break the Cycle.

[5] Pradeep Acharya, Dhaulagiri Journal of Sociology and Anthropology, Vol.2.

By Cécile Barthet and Claire Barthet