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Social Welfare Centre Elderly’s Home, Pashupatinah

Report by Mr. Udaya Lal Shrestha, General Secretary, ULBA-Youth Wing

Nepal

March 2006

Social Welfare Centre Briddhashram is the only Elderly's Home operated by His Majesty's Government in the Kingdom Nepal. It was established in 1882 A.D and operated as being the Panchadeval Pakshala in the regime of His Majesty Surendra Vir Vikram Shah. Now at present it is being operated by the name of Social Welfare Centre Elderly's Home, Pashupati since 1977 A. D. The total sheltering capacity of this Elderly Home is 230 persons.

Criteria of entrance/description and procedures to have been submitted for getting the shelter in the Elderly's Home are:

- The Nepalese citizenship certificate of completion of the age of 65 years

- A clear recommendation letter from the concerned Village Development Committee or Municipality, stating that the person is orphan, helpless, poor and he has on body to take care of.

- The concerned person should submit an application to the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare requesting for permission to live in Elderly's Home.

- After application is approved, admission shall be made if there is vacancy.

- The services and facilities provided by this Elderly's Home is:

- Maintenance and housing provision

- Health care and sanitation provision

- Clothing provision twice a year

- Celebration of traditional festivals

- Pilgrimage provision from time to time

- Provision of singing the songs of pray and other religious programmes in every morning and evening

- Provision of funeral rites after death and death anniversary social tradition


If any organization or a person intends to assist this center in case of cash, it can be put into the saving account of Elderly's Home Welfare fund in Rastriya Banijya Bank, Gaushala, Kathmandu.

If somebody intends to provide voluntarily in kinds or any other commodities for the old people, the donor may provide by contacting the office chief. If any organization or a person intends to provide any kind of service (for example taking care of medicine and health check up, religious discourse etc.) he can provide by getting permission from the office chief.

Regarding the situation we, members of ULBA Youth Wing and United ULBA Free Clinic decided to offer some food and money to old people of Elderly's Home. We distributed two packets of Biscuits and NRs. 5/- each to whole 230 old people. It felt so good and peaceful to give something from your heart and we got many blessings from them, which were very precious to us. If given a chance to serve helpless people we will do more of these programmes.

 

Life and Death in Pashupatinath: Elders Find a Home on the Banks of Kathmandu’s Bagmati

By Dave Baldridge Executive Director, American Association for International Aging

Nepal

November 7, 2005

 

It’s our first day in Kathmandu and we are leaving Nepal’s only government-sponsored senior citizens home. Charles Englebert, our Colorado-based Himalayan mountain bike guide-to-be for the next two weeks, suddenly looks away, tears in his eyes. His voice is choked, so we save our questions, not wanting to intrude.

Back in the U.S. a month later, we learn more of the story by email from Charles’ brother, Kevin:

When guiding in Nepal in 2004, Charles discovered an older man living (or rather dying) under a bridge. The man could not see due to infection in his eyes and he could not walk due to a crushed hip sustained in some sort of accident. He was starving and freezing. Charles estimates the man had only a few more days before he would have died.

For several days, Charles brought food and water to him, nursing him back to strength and trying to convince him to get some care. The man was reluctant to seek help. Eventually, however, he agreed to move into the shelter. The cab ride from the bridge to the shelter was unpleasant, as the old man had not bathed or had adequate toiletries for quite some time--truly a desperate situation. Charles felt that he had done all he could, and this last act was probably a lifesaver.One year later, while on our trip, Charles returned to the same shelter to find out if the elderly man, named Dona Badu, had survived. He has, and is thriving! His sight is back, his hip has healed, he is almost completely mobile, and he has made many new friends at the shelter. Dona Badu cried when he saw Charles, and told him that he “had brought him back from the dead.” He proclaimed “all these people are my friends,” pointing to the many people he has met at the shelter.

 The Siddhi Shaligram Briddhashram (Home for the Elderly) lies 4.8 kilometers northeast of the heart of the city, but also an abode for frolicking monkeys and sadhu santas with tangled hairs who come from across the Indian subcontinent.”

Through the complex, the Bagmati River flows quietly past the ghats where ghutiyars cremate human remains daily, dumping the ashes into the river where they flow downstream, eventually to the sacred Ganges. For Hindu faithful, to die and be cremated means release from the cycle of repeated birth and death.

On one particular day, floating on her back, a woman, wearing a brilliant red dress and carrying an urn under one arm, is chanting. Nearby, two Ramanandi sadhus (ascetic pilgrims), themselves elders with faces painted brightly behind long tangled beards--are posing for tourists. They pay scarce attention to the woman who, apparently in the midst of her own personal epiphany, exits the water, still chanting, her eyes cast upward to a hazy, polluted sky.

A few yards across the river, the Briddhashram houses some 180 destitute Nepali elders. Founded by Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity, the order still supports some sisters who, along with intermittent volunteers, operate one wing there. According to EasyTravel.com, the English-speaking sisters need help each morning “changing and cleaning sheets, helping residents wash, clipping nails, scrubbing pots, etc.”

The rest of the center—the only home for seniors supported by the monarchy-- is run by the government. In order to gain admission, elders endure a lengthy and hectic process of verification from the District Administration Offices, Municipalities or Village Development Committees, and sometimes the Social Welfare Council. As we stroll through the grounds, a few elders look at us curiously. They are eating their noon meal of rice, scooped from bowls with their fingers. They sit on concrete ledges around a garden that they tend. In the middle of the garden, a miniature Shiva temple presides over bell and datura flowers the elders have planted around it.

Sustained mostly by donations that provide just over $200/person—the average annual income for a Nepalese citizen--the Briddhashram residents consider themselves some of the most fortunate elders in all of Nepal. In truth, they are. Briddhashram residents represent close to one in every 7,000 Nepalese elders. They are keenly aware that they survive daily against enormous odds.

Western perceptions of the Briddhashram sometimes reflect a different perspective. One Australian visitor found residents “living in very basic and cramped living conditions . . .so dark that we stumbled along walkways. We were amazed to see that parts of the accommodation included open air porches that must have been extremely cold in winter.”

Briddhashram residents are less critical. One elder told a reporter, “I am very happy here. They give us food, clothing and take care of us, which is all we need because after all we are going to die one day.” Another--an 80-year-old who has lived in shelters since 1946--said, “Our daily routine is so simple and peaceful. We are served good food and then we go for prayers in the morning and in the evening. It’s better to live here on the lap of Lord Pashupatinath than at my son’s house which is filled with hatred.”

“There are very few options for the elders in Nepal, a caregiver told the Kathmandu Post: “In the absence of a center providing good old age care, they live as a liability and a headache for their families. Even at this, Nepal’s flagship senior home, “many elders . . . simply . . . have nowhere else to go.”

Given such overwhelming in-your-face levels of need, Pashupatinath Briddhashram employees and volunteers get high marks from residents and supervisors alike. “Our staff members here work day in and day out,” says office chief Arjun Prasad Gautam. “They start working from as early as six a.m. ‘til eight p.m.” But it’s not enough to stem the overwhelming, unrelenting need apparent in the eyes of elders and children everywhere in Kathmandu. Nepal’s entire working class population, not just the elderly, find themselves in crisis.

Landlocked by Pakistan, India, Tibet, and China, Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world, with nearly half of its population living below the poverty line. Subsistence agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, providing a livelihood for more than 80% of the population.

In general, the forces driving Nepalese quality of life are out of control. These include an autocratic monarchy, lack of an industrialized infrastructure, a fertility rate of 4.19 children per woman, one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world (nearly 67/1,000), and a population of which only 45.2 percent over the age of15 are literate. A Nepal Multiple Indicator Survey by Community Information and Epidemiological Technologies (CIET) indicated that only two percent of Nepalese women over the age of 61 could read or write a simple letter.

The only official Hindu state in the world, Nepal is home to nearly 28 million people and 50 ethnic groups speaking 25 different languages. These minorities—including Newars, Gurungs, Magars, Tamangs, and Sherpas—coexist more or less peacefully. Not so Nepal’s political entities--the Maoists and the ruling monarchy. Nepal’s ongoing political crisis—with Maoists controlling large chunks of the Nepalese countryside—contributes to health problems as well as the simmering potential for civil war. Often, Nepal’s estimated 1? million elders aren’t able to navigate the ongoing conflict effectively.

The Kathmandu Post reported in 2002 that “an increasing number of elderly have left their homes following their children’s enlistment in Maoist militant groups.” A U.S. Department of State report on human rights practices states that up to 200,000 persons have been displaced since the start of the insurgency, and that in 2003 alone 38,000 Nepalese of all ages left their villages out of fear.

Seventy-nine-year-old Kirtiman Thami reportedly left his home after his only surviving son joined the Maoists. “Before his enlistment, the Maoists harassed us,” he said. “After his enlistment, I had no choice but to leave.” After wandering and begging for weeks, Thami finally gained admission to the Briddhashram.

The Post reported that an elder in tears said, “Many families have disintegrated and several thousand are displaced due to the conflicting demands of both the security forces and the Maoists. Most people of my generation have left the village. There is no work and no safety there.”

If safety is ever to come to Nepalese elderly—whether they are lost in the busy streets of Kathmandu or eking out subsistence livings in remote villages--it is seemingly unlikely to happen in the near future without dramatic political and economic reforms.

Whether or not the Nepalese government has the political will to enact broad reforms remains to be seen. Based on the government’s health care track record, the world shouldn’t hold its breath. Now in its second long-term health plan and soon to begin its tenth five-year health plan, the poorest nation in Asia continues to issue optimistic reports and establish enthusiastic goals. This despite the fact that Nepal spends only 3.7 percent of its annual budget on health care.

That translates to about $3/person (including donor funding), whereas the World Bank estimates that $12/person is needed for basic health care in a developing nation (the U.S. government spends $4,000/person annually). Nepal’s investment in health is the lowest of any country in Asia. The result, as assessed by the Nepal Health Economics Association (NHEA) is that “a large segment of the population is still denied access to adequate health care.”

In Nepal, even the concept of adequate health care stumbles against the nation’s shambles of a public health infrastructure. More than a third of Nepal’s citizens lack access to safe drinking water (UNICEF1994) or adequate sanitation. The British Medical Journal estimated in 2004 that 72% of Nepal’s human waste was not disposed of properly. That same year, a Water for Nepal Health (NEHWA) spokesperson said that contaminated water and unhygienic conditions causes 80% of all diseases. NEHWA also noted that less than 30% of Nepal’s citizens wash their hands in safe water before meals, resulting in high rates of diarrhea, dysentery, worms, and cholera.

The resulting health statistics are grim. Recent diarrhea occurs in 15% of children, and in one hospital, gastroenteritis has been responsible for 63% of fatalities. Stunted growth due to malnutrition affects 47% of kids under age five.

The lives of Nepali elders, too—even apart from health considerations--remain especially difficult. A Nepal Community Based Action Group (NIPAN) study in 2001 revealed that “A majority of the elderly persons in poverty-stricken rural areas work five to ten hours and elderly women up to 16 hours a day to make a living. Elders or women from poor families work as porters or farm wage earner(s), while some are involved in breaking stones, sewing shoes and dresses as far as allowed by their physical capacity irrespective of gender and caste.”

The 2001 study pointed out that, with the emergence of financial difficulty in the family, “there seems to be wide disparity in the care provided for elders.” The report also stated that “elderly persons from all kinds of families list food, clothing, accommodation and health services” as their basic needs.

There currently exists little or no data reflecting a systematic assessment of Nepali elders’ health status or their needs. NGO recommendations for improving their lives consistently involve considerations of familial responsibility, inheritance, labor force issues, and long-term care. While these are all familiar to America’s aging network, locally they lack coherent, organized support from other Nepalese advocates or the government. The government continues to endure strong criticism for its continuing inability to coordinate initiatives with NGOs or other potential sources of help.

In retrospect, the images of Pashupatinath continue to burn through the jumble of images, smells, and sounds that linger in a Westerner’s mind after a Third World visit. The continued existence of the center, like that of the towering Himalayas a hundred miles away, perhaps poses more questions than it answers.

For more information about the Pashutpatinath Briddhashram and how you can make a donation, contact:
American Association for International Aging (AAIA)
4220 Indian Springs, NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109
Tel: 505/232-9908 or 505/239-4793
Website: www.aaiainfo.org

Bio

Dona BaduA 59-year-old Cherokee, Dave Baldridge hopes “to give back something to the Nepali elders who changed my world view of aging in poverty.” A long-time board member of the American Society on Aging, Baldridge , executive director of the American Association for International Aging, also consults for the CDC’s Native Diabetes Wellness Program in Albuquerque, NM.

 


Ousted Parents Find Solace at Pashupatinath

By Tashi Dolma Thinley, The Kathmandu Post

 September 21, 2001

 

 
The temple vicinity of Lord Pashupatinath is not just a famous pilgrimage for Hindu pilgrims from around the world, but also an abode for frolicking monkeys and sadhu santas with tangled hairs who come from across the Indian subcontinent.

And that is not all. It is also a home to those unfortunate elderly people who are either kicked out of their houses by their offspring or feel neglected at home. Seventy-year-old Dhana Laxmi of Terai Region is one of them. She says, "I am very happy here. They give us food, clothing and take care of us, which is all we need because after all we are going to die one day".

She is not the only one. The Pashupati Briddhashram, a old-age shelter home run by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare Council, since B.S 1938, shelters around 180 elderly people with its homes dotting the Pashupati area landscape. Most of them are genuinely happy for the basic fact that they have "no problems, no tensions and an easy life".

Adds 80-year-old Shombare Giri, who has been living in the shelter home since 1946 says, "Our daily routine is so simple and peaceful. We are served good food and then we go for prayers in the morning and in the evening. It’s better to live here on the lap of Lord Pashupatinath than at my sons house which is filled with hatred."

On the right hand side flows the holy Bagmati River, on whose banks sit the crematoriums where the funeral of dead Hindus is carried out.

With the change in time and attitude of new generation, sociologists say, more and more elderly people are finding it difficult to stay at their homes and thus landing in such shelter homes and even in the streets. It is due to this fact that certain number of elderly parents has been at the receiving end of sorrow and pain.

Says Chaitanya Mishra, a renowned sociologist: "Though the number is very low compared to the west, it is growing due to rapid urbanization, social changes, economical reasons and the generation gap."

The situation here too is resembling like that of some western countries where parents have to go and live at old age homes like the Pashupati Briddhashram when they become old and helpless. General people having the notion that old age homes are "pathetic places" meant for neglected parents is slowly turning into a shredded notion today.

Many still feel sorry for those parents who live in these old age homes as they are the ones who are not cared, and not looked after and have landed there as if they are burden to the society. But those who are there in the Pashupati Briddhashram have left their past and bitter memories far behind and getting on with life in a zest.

Shambu Singh Basnet, 72, was of a well-off family of 16 members. He thought he was the happiest person in the world as his family grew. But with time, his own family members made him feel unwanted and a burden in his own home. It was his nightmare when his sons suggested him stay in the Ashram.

But today, he says, "Had I not left my family, I would be disturbing their peace of mind and hurting myself too, today there is nothing that bothers me, there is hundred percent peace here".

The Pashupati Briddhashram is not the only shelter home in the capital city. Experts say there are about 15-20 charity homes that are run by various non-governmental organizations. The Mother Teresa Charity Home (MTCH), in Mitra Park run by the Missionaries of Charity is also one of them, which provides shelter to about 200 aged and 45 children. The MTCH also sends volunteers - both Nepalese and foreigners – to the Pashupati Briddhashram for services.

But it comes as a surprise to many that the Briddhashram is the only one old age home run by the government. But to actually seek shelter in the Briddhashram, ‘grandfathers and grandmothers’ need to go through a lengthy and hectic process of verification from the District Administration Offices, Municipalities or Village Development Committees and even the Social Welfare Council.

The bitter truth is that there are much more people out there who need such services in the country. Says Sister Celia of the MTCH, "There are ample number of people who are in need of help and shelter and they are just neglected because there is no place for them."

Even the government officials at the ashram are more than keen to extend their services to more people by adding more beds in the Ashram. "This is more like a service-oriented organization than a government office, " says Arjun Prasad Gautam, the Office Chief of the Briddhashram. "Our staff members here work day in and day out. Though they are supposed to work between 9 a.m to 5 p.m. they start working from as early as 6 a.m. in the morning till 8 p.m. at night."
 


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