A grey-haired man who thinks he is 12 years old, since he is stuck in the past because of a traumatic incident in his teenage years.
An elderly man who is stuck in his childhood after a snake scared him.
A weak, senile man who was found on the road appallingly sick with breathing issues – because he was making a living (running a weighing machine) in one of the busiest, most polluted streets of Hyderabad.
An elderly lady who has seizures 3-4 times every night.
None of these people have immediate family they can call their own – no children, siblings or relatives – or the money to survive on their own. Where do they go for shelter, care and food, then?
Priyadarshini Seva Mandali’s old-age home in Hyderabad is a free institution being run for just these kinds of destitute old people. The home is one of the community service projects that Priyadarshini Seva Mandali (PSM), a 23-year-old organization, currently undertakes. At the time of writing this, they have two such facilities in Hyderabad – one in Kapra and one in Miyapur – and they plan to merge the two of them and run just one in Miyapur. Together, they house 30 senior citizens.
My Visit – Kapra, Hyderabad
It wasn’t just another Sunday here. A Sai Baba bhajan was underway, and the main hall was filled with residents of the facility and volunteers who were there for the bhajan. Mrs. Aruna, the founder, took me upstairs to her family’s living quarters, where she resides whenever she’s in town to supervise the facility. We spoke about how she started this home, the kind of people that are housed here, and the sordid stories about the circumstances that force many senior citizens into a twilight of loneliness.
The PSM old-age home is a modest 2-storeyed building that has been rented out. It houses 24 residents, all of whom are provided accommodation, food and even medical care for free. However, the ones who can afford to pay, do so.
Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner are served every day. The staff include a dhobi, a few cooks and attendants. Further, a doctor is available on call, and in cases of emergencies, hospital services like ambulances are also availed of. Bhajans are conducted once a month, and this is when the home is abuzz with festive activity. The residents are also kept active every day by way of mild exercise (for those who are capable of it), and miscellaneous activities.
The very hands-on Mrs. Aruna herself cooks meals sometimes, and she tells me that at the Miyapur old-age home, it is her son Vamshi who cooks because they don’t have a cook there.
For some of the destitute people who are brought in from the streets, this is their only hope to access clean clothing, beds and bathrooms. Mrs. Aruna and Vamshi are both extremely warm and kind people, and connect with their beneficiaries with great ease, treating them just like one would a member of the family.
It isn’t just the financially poor who find refuge at PSM. There are diverse cases of severe emotional neglect – a son who admitted his widowed mother because the daughter-in-law refuses to care for the mother-in-law; a couple who admitted an elderly parent because they decided to go abroad; a man who claimed to have found an old person on the road, but who in reality was the latter’s son. Mrs. Aruna says the PSM staff try to counsel cases where the elderly are clearly being neglected, and there reportedly indeed was one person who changed his mind about admitting a parent into the home.
The beneficiaries are kept well-fed, in a safe, clean home in a peaceful locality, and their worldly possessions all fit onto a corner of the cot they sleep in, but naturally, it is the love and affection from the near and dear that these residents clearly crave. Ironically, the absence of family gnaws at them all the more when volunteers come to visit, because it is then the harsh reality of what others have and they don’t, strikes them.
GiveIndia donations are used to fund meals, medicines and other amenities for the old-age home, and volunteer services are welcome. With a sustainable inflow of funds, PSM is quite capable of scaling up this operation and expanding the old-age home.
Meanwhile, the beneficiaries I met were grateful to Mrs. Aruna, and praised her efforts to maintain a caring and loving environment. Yet, there is only so much that a social worker can do for the elderly, despite her best. Because every one of the residents had a sadness in his/her eyes – a void which perhaps only family can fill in.
Support for HIV+ Kids, Khammam
Note: Names of beneficiaries have been changed to protect privacy.
Scene 1: Kamalamma* is HIV+, and so are two of her three children. They live in a shabby, unclean one-room shack in a small slum comprising 2-3 such rooms, adjoining a middle-class house. She lost her husband almost a decade ago, after she bore him 3 children. Her husband was a jeep driver, and Kamalamma contracted the deadly virus from him. She is an Anganwadi worker, and all her three children go to school. Fortunately, the eldest child, a 10th standard student, does not have AIDS. Unfortunately, he is turning out to be a rebellious and irresponsible adolescent who does not like school very much.
Scene 2: Divya*, a shy teenager with a strikingly charming face, tends to smile a lot – shyly – when you speak to her. She is in her Intermediate 1st year. She contracted the AIDS virus from her mother, Vijaya*, who in turn contracted it from her deceased husband, a truck driver. Vijaya was an ayah in a school, and now is a labourer who works for daily wages.
These are entire households that suffer from AIDS, and are probably among the lowest economic classes in our society. There is severe stigma surrounding the disease, and so, none of their neighbours knows about their condition. This is also why, ironically, in the recently conducted Telangana survey, Kamalamma could not tell the enumerator the disease they were suffering from, as the survey was conducted in the middle of the slum, with other families watching.
You can’t solve all their problems, but you can help them with some. Priyadarshini Seva Mandali (PSM) has been working to support HIV-infected people since 2005, when they first collaborated with the Clinton Foundation. The Clinton Foundation doesn’t work in AP and Telangana any more, but PSM continues some of the work they had started then.
Every month, a bag of groceries is distributed to each of the children affected by HIV. Around 90 HIV-affected kids are covered in this scheme, out of which 30 are orphans. Many HIV kids are from single-parent families, or are orphans living with relatives. While the grocery kit is a mix of nutrition essentials, it is only meant as a supplement to the regular ration that the families receive through their while ration card. The kit consists of rice, ragi flour, oil, tur dal, jaggery and chick peas and ground nuts. The travel costs for the patient and a guardian are also borne by PSM.
The grocery kit is different for children with at least one parent each, and for orphans (there are more groceries for the latter). Typically, the bags are handed over to beneficiaries on a fixed day every month.
While HIV-affected patients do visit the government’s free Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART) centres for medicines, PSM also pitches in in giving free medical care to these children, by sponsoring doctor consultations and medicines for general illnesses. In fact, PSM has an interesting history of having worked with pregnant HIV-affected women in Khammam, and most of its current beneficiaries have had a long relationship with the organization.
Mid-day Meal for Destitute Old People, Khammam
That unwashed old man who lives under the flyover even as the whole city bustles by him. That bunch of old women begging at your neighbourhood temple. That shabby old man who sits around on the footpath aimlessly – not begging, but just sitting around.
While most people’s natural reactions to homeless people and beggars is, “Why can’t they work and earn money?”, we forget that all the above cases have one thing going against them – they are too old to be gainfully employed anywhere.
Priyadarshini Seva Mandali (PSM) in Khammam has been feeding destitute old people a meal every day since 2008, with the respect and dignity that these people may not receive from the rest of the world. This is a project PSM has been implementing since 2008.
The setting is a simple house in the quiet locality of Mamillagudem in Khammam, which doubles up as the PSM office. A kitchen adjoins the dining room, in which there is space for 10-13 people to eat at once. People are seated on the floor, as they come in, and served a freshly-cooked, hot meal on a large paper plate. The PSM staff also pack food for people who seem so helpless that they cannot arrange for a second meal for the day.
I ate the same lunch with Mrs. Aruna and Vamshi, and marvelled at how tasty and well-cooked it was. The meal consisted of rice, two vegetable preparations, sambar, a chutney and curd.
The beneficiaries of this mid-day meal are poor people who have no family to take care of them and are never really sure of where their next meal comes from. Some of them fend for themselves by begging, perhaps, and others somehow scrounge around and manage to put together some food for themselves and secure shelter for the day. Then there was one lady who never married – she retired as a school teacher, and lives with her relatives but is uncomfortable depending on them. There are varied stories of beneficiaries, but there is one common strain running through them – poverty, and the absence of a solid anchor to their lives.
So, are there freeloaders taking advantage of this free lunch? Surprisingly, no. I wonder if young people are more self-respecting and ethical in small towns than in the bigger cities – the people at PSM tell me that the only people who partake of this mid-day meal are the truly destitute people. A comforting fact indeed, for all those donors out there who wonder if their money is being put to proper use.
The number may vary, but about 35-50 people are fed every day, and the operation costs Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,500 a day. Overall, I found this project simple, noble and executed well, and one of its kind. Feeding the hungry is an activity that is immediately satisfying, both for the beneficiary and for the donor, and it would be interesting to see PSM scaling this up a little bit more and taking the “annadanam” to more deserving people. In the big bad city, maybe?