White hairs, wrinkled face, a cane for walking and a slouched-over body; that’s what most of you associate the old age with. But when you see a group of senior citizens practising t’ai chi, you will feel shocked, right?
There are a lot of stereotypes associated with old age. Now, there is a group of young people working to break such stereotypes. The group has been engaging local grandpas and grannies in various activities involving physical and social activities. Some sway to the music and learn to play the ukulele while some play games on their tabs and others call their children abroad on their own. It reiterates the saying ‘learning has no age’ and becomes proof that you can still celebrate life when you are old.
Interestingly, this group has been doing everything as a business and as a social impact, moving a step forward to the emerging paradigm shift–a change in attitude that not only nonprofit NGOs, but profit-generating companies can also take over social ‘activities’.
What is it?
Bihani Social Venture is the organisation that has been carrying out and encouraging elders to involve in different activities. It introduces itself as a for-profit social enterprise. Established in 2013, it works with people over 50 years of age to enrich their lives and promote healthy living. But it is not strictly for the elders only, but a multi-generational platform for anyone who suffers from isolation or loneliness.
The organisation’s founder says they enable the elderly people to re-engage, re-explore and re-live. They offer a range of programmes and services that are categorised under three main sections: social engagement and participation; health and rehabilitation; and organisational support and enterprise development support.
The organisation provides such services in person-centric and family-centric approaches “because everyone is different”. It offers its services on request–at the time and the place demanded by the client, hence, the company calls it ‘magic of choice’. The pool, which the clients can choose the services from, includes 15 major items such as art, music, self-defence, language, technology, movie screenings, park visits and health care. They even help individuals to enhance and earn from their skills or area of expertise.
Apparently, as corporate social responsibility, the company has also engaged itself in some not-for-profit works like visiting old-age homes, conducting regular health checkups, socio-psychological screenings for free in collaboration with the hospitals and doctors. It makes sure to call the already-served clients on special occasions like birthdays and mother’s day, father’s day or pay them a visit on a regular basis, arrange potlucks so that the elderly do not feel alone.
The Bihani team consists of the core members, volunteers and students along with a network of health experts, geriatricians that actively engage in the work.
Why senior citizens?
The team claims it has a solid reason for its choice of working with the elderly, a practically challenging group, and developing it as a profitable company in the future.
Right now, about 9% of the total population in the world (or 143 million) are above 60 years of age while in Nepal it is over 8% (in 2011 census). By 2030, the expected population of people over 60 will be 16.5% (1.4 billion) with a conversion rate of 56%. The WHO has even declared 2020-2030 as the decade of healthy ageing. Nepal Government also has a separate ministry for the senior citizens.
“The group of elderly will be the fastest-growing population bracket soon. Their concerns are serious and international organisations including the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have tried to address them, with a focus on their health and holistic growth,” says the company’s founder Santoshi Rana.
“We are all going to age; how we age might differ but we will,” she says, “We are working because we understand and believe that every human requires human connections; they want to be loved, cared for and be productive.”
Samridhi Rana, Inclusion Specialist-Disability and Ageing at Bihani, says, “The numbers point at a reality that can happen (in the future), but there are problems already today. There are parents who have been abandoned by their children. There are many who sit alone at home waiting and many who want to live and learn new things, but cannot. We go to them, give them company, and engage them in different activities, to care for them and to make them feel special that they are not alone.”
People do not want to imagine themselves old. They also cannot really associate with what it means to be old. Whenever they do, they think of weakness, illness, immobility and they are somehow limited to it,” Santoshi explains, “But the problems go beyond these. They feel lonely, abandoned, helpless, and dependent. People, even their own children treat them poorly. They are busy in their lives; they have less time to see what their parents need. There have been cases where old people commit crimes just so that they get jailed and get to talk to someone.”
“In childhood, parents invest their money, time, give efforts and show patience to us. They take the best care of us and what we need. When we grow up, we should show them the affection and patience and start investing money on their needs and their comfort,” adds Samridhi.
What are the challenges?
But, it’s easier said than done. All the activities that the company has been doing involve many challenges. The very first challenge, according to Santoshi, is to make people understand that it is not a daycare centre or an old-age home. “We provide our services to the elderlies at homes, we do not run an old-age home,” she stresses on people understanding the difference.
The confusion, perhaps, stems from the Nepali society’s unfamiliarity with the idea of social enterprise. People think that we are an NGO or that we provide our services for free. We are a private company with a revenue model that works around a social cause. We charge people for the classes, memberships, and training we conduct,” the entrepreneur clarifies.
Next, ‘the magic of choice’, what the company identifies as a strength has also caused a problem sometimes. “Since our services are for the elderly at their home in their free time, our staff sometimes visit the clients at 7 in the morning, by when the elderly are not ready,” Santoshi says, “For us, having a plan B is not sufficient; we need to have many plans from A to Z.”
Another problem is related to the nature of their clients. “Many old people suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s, and at times they lose their consciousness and sense of reality. They do not recognise you; they start talking rude or touch you that seems inappropriate,” Samridhi says, “Some even take their clothes off while some try to hurt themselves or us. So it is very important to understand their (medical) history, their intentions. More importantly, we have to understand when to (not) get offended and how to cope up with the sudden demise of the elder.”
To cope with such challenges, Bihani has a code of conduct for its Home Based Service (HBS) providers. This includes guidelines on how to talk to them, what questions to ask, in what tone and how to deal with them. Safety precautions, some facts about the importance of human touch and eye contact while conversing and the line between work and emotions are also parts of the code. They also take training, on a regular basis, on trauma care, psycho-social support, para-professional counselling, and psychological first-aid.
Just last year, the government has been recommended to extend the retirement age to 60 from 58, but senior citizens here get the health benefits and allowance starting at the age of 65, given they have the identification. So, anyone who does not possess identification is deprived of the allowance. One can take any side of the argument to say, but Bihani’s concerns lie on that the Rs 3,000 monthly allowance from the government is not enough for their life today. “It is far better than Rs 500 they used to get back then, but it is still not enough,” states Santoshi.
The lack of geriatric physicians and psychologists in Nepali hospitals is another concern of Bihani. “There are only a handful of geriatricians, but with the provincial government and with Nepal government making laws on paper, we are hopeful of the change in scenario soon,” adds Santoshi.
The situation that the elderly are living today is worrying, but it is not something that cannot change. Founder Santoshi believes teaching the younger generation is the way to go, but they have to be guided by the seniors. “Adding such topic into the syllabus will help, but it will be useless if they do not get support or are encouraged by their parents. Another thing we can do is make people aware of the issue, spend time with parents, grandparents now.”