A fifteen minute autorickshaw ride in scorching heat from South Delhi to a two-storied office building in the city’s suburb of Lajpat Nagar seemed worthwhile after I met Himanshu Rath, the founder of Agewell Foundation. Himanshu’s professional journalistic roots were immediately evident in the large piles of books neatly arranged in all corners of his office, and occupying most of the space in it, as though we had simply moved a table into a library.
This spurred an impromptu conversation on his move from Journalism to running an NGO dedicated to the betterment of the eldery. He walked me into his work which redefined the metaphor ‘simple yet grand.’
Himanshu shared that his parents were university professors who used to work day and night. On seeing them slog and not enjoying life or really ‘living,’ he began to question the term ‘Earning continuously for a living.’ He set himself some targets for his own life which included retiring at the age of 40, not working just to earn a livelihood but rather doing creative work by freelancing. As a copywriter, Himanshu was often approached with writing offers from individuals in the social sector. Motivated by his desire to work on a truly unique and different issue, he found himself captivated by the paradox of old age in our society :
“I found that our traditional and modern outlooks are at logger heads with each other when it comes to old age. We look up to old people traditionally but reject them in day to day life. This is the major gap I came across and hence I decided to start an NGO which would meet this gap.”
He started interacting with old people in his locality and realized that all they needed was a listening ear.. He observed how they were unburdened and relaxed once they had someone who patiently heard them out. Hence, he devised a solution of starting a helpline thatthe elderly can call and converse about anything that’s on their minds.
Himanshu wanted to reach more than just the 5-6 people he could interact with everyday. He conceived of bringing in more people like him who could work as volunteers. With the help of some of the civil servants he had interacted with, this idea of a helpline reached people at higher posts such as Chief Medical Officers and heads across Delhi. “They were good responses within no time. I would disagree with the cliché ideas about the government and what a task it is to approach them for help. They were with us and in fact helped in arranging volunteers across the country who would work for free”, Himanshu shared.
Himanshu now has volunteers across India who work for Agewell Foundation with many of them being Air Marshals and IAS officers. These volunteers also help in further networking and building contacts across the country. “We lose count of the number of people the Foundation interacts with every day. Most of the people calling in initially were between 60-67 years of age. As the days passed and word spread through door to door outreach, social media promotion, and word of mouth, we started getting callers between 70-80 years of age too. Most of them are lonely because their children stay abroad and their near or dear ones do not interact with them.”
By virtue of the surveys and promotions conducted by the Foundation, the volunteers came across slums in Delhi which were in critical condition. There were disabled and, physically handicapped people with no access to proper health care. Himanshu saw an urgent need for healthcare. People approached him to expressa need for walkers, crutches, and other mobility aids. Realizing the gravity of the need, he started to supply wheelchairs, adult diapers, spectacles and other much needed supplies.
In response to my curiosity about funding sources, he reverted, “We have many donors who help us with the healthcare program.”
Agewell Helpline aims to disabuse the popular mindset that regards old age with a sense of pity for being helpless. Volunteers attend to medical or emotional concerns, affairs to do with legal or local financial matters. The Helpline also aims to provide family support to those older persons living alone. In addition, Agewell works in other fields such as employment programs for the elderly and , financial aid. “While all other important issues have been included, the aspect of old age has somehow not been touched upon. Initiatives to assist old people should be taken seriously.” Himanshu comments of his unique and much-needed solution.
Extending a willing helping hand to the elderly and assisting them in finding solutions to their problems, Agewell Foundation has emerged as that silent support to a demographic in need.