We still live in a society where sections of people are marginalised and often neglected in their communities. None can tell this story better than the underprivileged children we see but constantly push to the background, but there is also another sizeable population who can often be ignored and slowly forgotten – the elderly population. While in our culture it is considered to be the norm for the elderly to live with their children, circumstances can often lead to them being alone in the city and staying at an old home instead. If they no longer have any family or friends, or have loved ones who live far away, their lives can often be extremely lonely after retirement.
Last month Project Pothchola, which was launched by Bandhu Foundation in July, 2014 with a vision to improve the lives for underprivileged children of our society, decided to begin work on their latest pioneering and visionary project – to bring these children together with elderly people who would welcome the company in their otherwise lonely lives. The first steps towards this social experiment was taken at the Agargaon Old Home.
“We started off with visiting the place and doing our research into whether the elderly people who live at Agargaon old home would actually be interested in participating,” said Rukaiya Jahan Ria, chief executive, planning and development section, Project Pothchola.
“A lot of the senior citizens here are suffering from a void in their lives and are very lonely, and almost all the children we work with are neglected or forgotten by their families. There is so much love that is waiting to be given but there is no one to receive it, so we wanted to bring the young and old together and bridge this gap,” she added.
Once the initial research phase was over, Pothchola started the main brunt of their project – in the last couple of weeks of Ramadan, 30 children from the project spent several days with 45 senior citizens at the Agargaon Old Home. The children started their visit with going door-to-door to each senior citizen, offering them flowers and other hand-made gifts such as Eid cards.
There was the initial awkwardness on the part of the children, and many of the seniors also seemed a bit at loss at what to do – quite understandable when a bunch of fresh-faced youngsters turn up at your door with flowers and goodwill, and nothing more. However, the more they got to talk to each other, the more the uneasiness dissipated, until there was nothing but happy chatter and quite smiles flooding the once gloomy corridors of the old home.
By the end of it, there were a couple of children in almost every room of the home. In one, you could hear an elderly man telling a group about all the historical curiosities at the Dhaka National Museum, where he used to work before he retired. In another, a woman was heard exclaiming, “thank you so much for bringing me the flowers dear, I always want fresh ones in my room.”
In one room, a little boy sat and drew a picture of a house next to a river, while an elderly man with a white beard smiled indulgently and chatted to him about the colour scheme. In the room right next to it, another senior citizen was reading out from a book of poetry to two other children sat next to him, his hand waving about while he enunciated the words of Nazrul.
In one of the rooms, a lady with long, silver hair and a warm smile had a group of four or five young ones sat in a circle around her. “Please don't interrupt our session now,” said the former teacher. “I want to teach these beautiful little children my favourite rhymes.” Within minutes, the whole room was chanting, laughing and clapping along to the rhythm.
Another lady with cropped hair and a faint smile stood in the corridor, encouraging the children to go in and join the fun. “Today you go to that Nani and hear songs and rhymes. Next time, I will tell you about how my friends and I fought in the great liberation war,” she said with a proud toss of her head.
It was incredible to see how quickly these children managed to interact with the people at the old home, especially since in other places, they might not have received an equally warm welcome due to their underprivileged status.“It was really nice to play these games and learn these rhymes,” said 13 year old Meem. “We don't normally get such affection from strangers like this.”
15 year old Sayeed, however, was not surprised at all. “It doesn't matter if these old ladies don't have their own children with them now,” he says. “They still have the hearts of mothers, and that is why they are kind.”