This week, You! takes a look at a few old homes in Karachi which have given shelter to those who have no one to take care of them...
With age comes wisdom but sometimes it comes alone. With feebleness descending on a person slowly, they need patience and compassion to get by. Culturally, the elderly of the family are considered a blessing in the house as they are a source of love and wisdom for an entire family that binds them together. In our society, joint family system is a norm. Presence of grandparents is regarded as an integral part in the upbringing of young ones in the family. However, with this fast-paced life, we are distanced from our family values and elders are seen as ‘burden’ in some cases.
According to statistics, Pakistan has the sixth largest population of senior citizens which makes up about 7 per cent of its total population. Nations around the world are taking measures to provide them with better facilities and healthcare services, but Pakistan has yet to reach the bar. According to a study done by United Nations in 2017, the number of older persons - those aged 60 years or over - is expected to more than double by 2050 and to more than triple by 2100, rising from 962 million globally in 2017 to 2.1 billion in 2050 and 3.1 billion in 2100. Globally, population aged 60 or over is growing faster than all younger age groups.
While there are a couple of long-standing welfare organisations that have been providing shelter to the old and senile, more people are joining the cause. In 2006, there were only three old-age homes in Karachi, but the number has gone up since then. However, the progress that is seen is slow-paced and active measures need to be taken by the government in this regard. There have been private organisations or NGOs working for the supervision of the elderly but nothing worth mentioning has been noticed on government level. Keeping this in mind, this week, You! takes a look at a few old homes in Karachi that have given shelter to those who have no one to take care of them. Read on...
A safe haven for women
Mrs Farzana Shoaib runs an all-female old home named ‘Bint-e-Fatima Old Home Trust’ - located in Clifton, Karachi. Farzana thought of establishing her old home some 11 years ago when she rescued her old neighbour Fatima. “One day, my neighbour Fatima slipped and fractured her leg; she was found lying on the floor alive after the police broke down her door and rescued her,” tells Farzana . “I took her in, had her treated at PNS Shifa but even after Fatima got well, she didn’t want to go back to her life of solitude. A year and a half later, when two more women came to me after Fatima, I decided to setup this institution. I consulted my two sons, rented a house and ran all the paperwork required to set it up. I didn’t think I would go beyond 4-5 women but now I have 45 women living here,” shares Farzana.
Farzana and her family lives with all the women in a well-kept and tidy, 600-yard home. “Initially, I kept an age limit to keep women over 60 but later on, when it was required, we provided shelter to women as young as 30 and even 18. Currently, the age bracket here is from 20 years to 100 years. We all live together and our schedules are set. We have women who are bed-ridden and some with limited mobility, but they are all showered, changed in clean clothes and then we have breakfast. In terms of hygiene, I personally tend to them otherwise I won’t be satisfied,” she adds.
According to Asad Shoaib, Farzana’s son, if young women approach them, they try to patch things up with their families through counselling.
Financially, Bint-e-Fatima is stable, but a huge chunk of it goes into rent. “We are looking for a land where we can build it properly. The rent of this house costs around 4 lacs including a storage space that is also rented for medical supplies and other furniture,” explains Asad. “Our first condition is that we will all live together because that way we can care for them properly. We prefer to take in orphans or women who have no families left at all. We have 20 families out of the 45 women who help us with the funds. Other than that, if someone wants to give their zakat, they can pay an amount of Rs. 35,000.”
Normally, an environment of an old home may look depressing but everything here gelled into a home-like feel. “Quite often students from schools and colleges visit these women and arrange recreational activities for them. Recently, they had a painting activity that they enjoyed,” says Farzana. A cook and two caretakers along with a fulltime nurse are available to them and in case of an emergency; they are taken to the local hospital in the area.
Old but not alone
Another such institution - more like a private care centre - is set up in North Nazimabad, Karachi called ‘Sunrise Senior Citizen Organisation’, established on a rental property, where 4 females and 18 males currently reside. Yasmeen Sohail, chairperson of Sunrise, took over the centre 8 years ago.
One of the residents here is Ghazala, a 54-year-old divorcee; she drinks excessive water to the point where she starts throwing up. Her body doesn’t signal her when she needs to stop, so she has a urine bag attached to her at all times. “You need to watch her all the time because if you don’t, she will run to the wash basin and start drinking water,” shares Yasmeen. “She is well, understands everything and sings pretty well too, but cannot control her urge to drink water. It’s one of the reasons why her family brought her from Edhi. That organisation has a lot of people to care for whereas she has to be watched constantly.” While Ghazala isn’t over 60, she seems to require the same amount of attention that a senior citizen would.
Likewise, 49-year-old, Aleem still pines for his ex-wife who took his house and two kids, after he was paralysed from waist-down. “We try to explain to him and help him get over it but he is very depressed. Sometimes, he can get really hyper to be controlled by the attendants, which is also one of the reasons why his family can’t keep him,” explains Yasmeen.
“We may be moving forward but are leaving our elders behind. Divorce rates are on the rise so in old age the children find it hard to care for them separately. Those who don’t marry are left with no family. So, people who are paralysed, have dementia, or psychosis are often hard to deal with. While elders are respected in our society, for some family members, it can be hard to look after someone with special needs around the clock, so they leave them with us,” she elaborates.
Sunrise also maintains a record file for each of its residents who support them. In terms of funds, a fee of Rs 15,000 is charged per person and it can vary - depending on the needs of each one of them. The rent makes up for about 1 lac on a monthly basis, which makes it tricky to manage expenses. In case of an emergency, if a person needs to be taken to the hospital, the expenses are covered by the families, whereas the first aid is provided by the in-house doctors who happen to be Yasmeen’s son and daughter-in-law.
The organisation doesn’t accept cash donations; it welcomes contributuions in terms of food and clothes. They also encourage volunteers to arrange activities for them. “Volunteer groups and students often drop by to conduct outdoor activities that they might enjoy. We go out for picnics and dinners sometimes. Recently, we took them out to a restaurant for dinner which was also sponsored by one of my family members. Sometimes people come here to celebrate birthdays and arrange barbecues in a bid to make them happy,” says Yasmeen.
Humanity above all
It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to, humanity always comes first. This is the ideology that Amanat Parwaiz, founder and chairman of ‘Anmol Zindagi Old Age Home’, follows. Located in near KMDC in North Nazimabad, Karachi, the organisation is established in a modest home on rent. “I am a Physiotherapist by profession and after retirement (from Sindh Medical College) I started doing home visits. During these visits, I met with Zarina bibi who was bed-ridden but had a sound mind. At one of my visits, I was asked by her son if I knew of an institute with a homely environment where they could admit their mother as they didn’t have means to keep her. After much thought, I decided to start this old home to help Zarina bibi, in January 2011.”
Anmol Zindagi has 27 residents out of which 25 are male and 2 are females. The residents are either mentally or physically impaired, the families left them here or they don’t have anyone left in the world. Parwaiz himself is a Christian but all of his residents are Muslims, despite that most people are reluctant to give them zakat or other charities. Parwaiz and a few of his friends are the ones funding the old home out of which around 60,000 to 70,000 goes in rent and bills on a monthly basis. “I try to provide them with the best I can. The food is cooked here and sometimes brought from outside. They have LCDs in their rooms, have board games, books and newspapers to read whenever they want. But, I can’t take them out frequently because funds remain an issue. For those who don’t have limited mobility, I would take them to the zoo or the sea in my car at times. For prayers, if they want to go to the mosque and pray, they are allowed to go and if they need help, an attendant accompanies them,” elaborates Parwaiz.
“I can only take in patients who I can handle like old, senile, schizophrenic or people who have dementia, but I can’t take anyone who has violent episodes which is difficult to handle. These elderlies do get upset at times and some of them have painful stories. Some were abandoned by children, others were stripped of their property and placed here, but I don’t have enough strength to fight for them in court or run to the police. All I can do is provide them shelter, bathe and clothe them, provide them food and any kind of care they require. I believe in humanity being my religion above all,” shares Amanat Parwaiz.
The recurring issues for these organisations are land and funds. While some may argue that a ‘western’ culture is being adopted through these old-age homes, the reality is much different. Had we been so compassionate, our senior citizens wouldn’t have to struggle to survive on a daily basis.
Legislation to safeguard the rights of senior citizens in Pakistan
Only 10% of Pakistanis have government jobs that offer pensions among other benefits in old-age. Most of the private sector jobs don't offer such facilities to their retired workers, leaving them at the mercy of the handful NGOs that too lack funds to care for all.
In 2014, the government of KP and Sindh drafted a law to facilitate senior citizens. While KP issued the law the same year, Sindh Assembly passed its 'Sindh Senior Citizen Welfare Act' in 2016. According to this Act, senior citizens (60 years and above) will be issued cards that will provide 'free geriatric, medical and health services with free medicines at public, and 25% concession at private hospitals; 50% concession in road transport fares and a 25% off on purchase of goods, drugs, medicines and essential commodities along with cinemas, hotels, restaurants and so on. A unique feature in the Sindh law criminalises mistreatment and abandonment of old family members with three months' imprisonment or a fine by trial. While these laws are ambitious, they remain unimplemented so far.