'Those whose hands I held when they learned to walk have now let go of mine’
Even without family and friends by their side during the holidays, residents of Abdul Ali Senior Rehabilitation Centre in Tok union of Gazipur’s Kapasia upazila seem to be doing quite well despite the pandemic.
Among loving caregivers and friendly neighbours, the aged and forgotten have found a place to call home and people to call family.
The facility provides timely meals, regular health check-ups, books to read and people to talk to, which is all some say they ever needed at this age.
Asiya Khatun, 85, from Kishoreganj, said she has two daughters but they don’t keep in touch.
She said although she had no one to call her own, people here had helped her overcome her loneliness. “People need other people to survive and that’s exactly what I got here.”
This correspondent, on a recent visit to the housing facility, discovered that the majority of the residents were uninterested in talking about their lives.
They referred to this ashram (the retirement home) as their present address and wished for it to be their final destination.
After becoming paralyzed in an accident, sixty-year-old Shamsul Huda also became a burden to those whose lives and livelihoods he had borne for so long.
“If I didn’t find this place, I might’ve had to beg on the streets. But, because of the unconditional love shown to me here, I didn’t need to go down that road,” he said.
Asked about his family, Shamsul Huda said: “What’s the use of remembering all that? This ashram is now my family and my home.
“Those whose hands I held when they learned to walk have now let go of mine,” he added despondently.
Asked if he had anything to say for the younger generation, he replied indifferently. “What more can I say? There are schools, religious institutions, books and media that teach lessons on the importance of devotion and respect towards one’s parents. However, these lessons don’t work unless one first becomes a human being with a human heart. I may have committed wrongs in my life. But what was the need to take revenge on me at this age?”
Meanwhile, Maharaja Begum, 95, believes she’s in the hospital and that she’ll return home once she’s recovered. When her children and grandchildren come to see her, she tells them not to worry and assures them that she’ll be home in no time.
Mamtaz Uddin, a local resident and school teacher, said he kept in touch with the elderly residents on a regular basis.
He said: “Abdul Ali, a certified doctor, come to the ashram twice a week to provide medical services. The elderly also receive free medicines from local doctors. Residents here have access to a variety of reading options.”
The facility intended for the elderly operates with one-time payment from the retired seniors. Currently there are 20 residents there.
Md Shahjahan, the ashram's founder, said the ashram began its journey in 2011 with only a handful of underprivileged senior citizens.
His relatives, especially his three daughters, aided him in the establishment of the ashram. He believes that unselfish devotion to others brings him divine bliss.
Not only does the ashram provide care for the elderly, but it also provides free computer instructions to students who are interested.
Students in secondary and higher secondary schools can receive free instruction in a well-equipped, air-conditioned lab with 25 PCs. A certificate is also issued at the conclusion of the 6-month training program, which is approved by the Bangladesh Technical Education Board.