Amritha Pillay reports on an NGO that is dedicated to helping senior citizens live and die with dignity
Sailesh Mishra personifies social activism; he gave up a well-paid marketing job to work for Dignity Foundation, an NGO that works with senior citizens (previously featured in these pages). He later set up the Silver Innings Foundation, which he financed and founded a year-and-a-half ago, and dedicated himself completely to the cause of the ageing and elderly.
When one thinks of social work for elders, an old-age home springs to mind, but Mr Mishra thought differently. He first set up a website with a couple of friends, to sensitise people about the issues relating to ageing and elders. While working with Dignity Foundation, he got an opportunity to work at its Nerul (Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra) township for elders. One of the turning points in his life was the death of an inmate who suffered from dementia. “When we called up his son in Canada about his father’s death, he coldly asked us to cremate the body,” said Mr Mishra. That is when Mr Mishra realised that there was a need to sensitise elders and their family members about ageing. The Silver Innings website addresses this need and covers issues relating to health, law, finance, relationships, hobbies and other useful information. “I realised it was difficult to find information related to the elderly from one single source. So we decided to provide this.”
That was the beginning. Soon enough, distress calls from all over the country, and also overseas, made Mr Mishra realise that a lot more needs to be done. So Silver Innings Foundation started conducting workshops, lectures, counselling sessions, pre-retirement sessions, awareness campaigns and inter-generational workshops aimed at bridging the gap between the youth and the elderly. It also runs an activity centre in a Mumbai suburb and provides home-care helpers to attend to the elderly in their own home environment, along with dementia management services. While the official fee for dementia management services is around Rs500 for a weekly visit, this service is provided at lower rates for those who cannot afford it. Home-based services involve a nominal travelling allowance fee ranging from Rs50 to Rs100.
Volunteers for these activities are sourced by word-of-mouth, media news and the Internet and trained on various ageing issues. Special care is taken to ensure the security of the senior citizens by verifying the identity of the volunteers through legal documents. One can also volunteer to mobilise people and arrange events for the Foundation.
Computer education for the elderly and annual programmes to showcase the talent of senior citizens are some of the other initiatives of Silver Innings. Asked how the Foundation reaches senior citizens who have no Internet access, Mr Mishra says “the Foundation is for all—those living in south Mumbai, as well as those living in Dharavi (one of Asia’s biggest slums); it has programmes for both sets of citizens.” He, however, thinks that NGOs working for the elderly operate in isolation and would like to form a stronger network across the country.
The short-term goals for Silver Innings are unique. Mr Mishra plans to convert the Silver Innings website into an e-commerce portal, with 25% of the earnings diverted towards the Silver Innings Foundation. An interesting aspect is the matrimonial section on the website. “We come across a number of senior citizens looking for companionship due to early death of their spouse; this section would help bring lonely elders together,” says Mr Mishra. A job section to help elders who need to earn or want to be occupied is also on the long-term agenda of Silver Innings which has placed senior citizens as teachers with NGOs in the past. Silver Innings Foundation would welcome any kind of support in their endeavours.
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