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A Social Cocoon For Senior Citizens

Ashpreet Sethi reports on  The Family Welfare Agency which  keeps Mumbai’s elderly in fine fettle

As soon as you enter the 10th building of the BDD Chawl (Mumbai), you hear peals of laughter; an elderly man of about 63 years screams: “I told you the Rani will be mine.” Keshav Sawant, who has been coming here for many years, loves playing carom with others of his age group at the day-care centre run by The Family Welfare Agency (FWA). He said, “Apart from recreation facilities that the centre provides, it gives us the opportunity to interact with people like us. Difficulties are resolved because we discuss our problems and try to help each other; it is not possible at our own homes.”

The FWA’s main focus has always been elder care. It has completed 60 years in providing services to senior citizens in Mumbai. Alpa Desai, a social worker with FWA, said its reach is quite diverse as it includes senior citizens from the working class, labourers, mill workers and even those who are well-educated but are just as eager to explore and enrich themselves. “We are not bound geographically but it becomes difficult to cater to everyone in the city (Mumbai). We believe in horizontal networking rather than vertical (the agency has no plans to expand to other cities). We encourage independent entities to collaborate in helping the older citizens of the city,” she says.

FWA was established in 1950 and has two centres located in Lower Parel meant for the mentally ill and another centre at Dharavi for elderly people with no mental illness. The Agency has metamorphosed from community-based social work to providing specialised services in the field of ageing and mental health. In 1979, FWA initiated its day-care services for the elderly, including recreational, medical, educational and income-generating activities.

Subhash, who is 63 years, finds relief and happiness in FWA. “Earlier I had blood pressure and knee problems when I was sitting at home. The yoga exercises that we were taught here help me to keep fit. In fact, my knee has stopped paining because of regular exercise. We love to be here with each other.”

FWA reaches out to the care of senior citizens facing neglect or ill-treatment, widows, the destitute and those suffering from Alzheimer’s/dementia or other mental diseases. Along with counselling, FWA provides legal information. Reading sessions are held whenever possible for those who cannot read but love to learn more. Recreation is more of a therapeutic activity which makes them happy. There are structured indoor and outdoor games and trips organised by FWA for the elderly. There are seminars and interactions conducted on social issues. “Two months ago, we held a seminar on the RTI (Right to Information) Act. Our next step would be to acquaint them with the procedure for filing applications; maybe we will take up an issue that concerns senior citizens and file an RTI application on it. We also try to ensure that senior citizens are made aware of new and existing laws directed towards them,” adds Alpa.     

FWA also promotes elder care by campaigning in colleges and organisations in Mumbai. “We had organised a poster competition among colleges last year with the theme of ‘Elder Abuse’, in English and Marathi. The posters are still used by us for issue-based networking. The most encouraging result was that 10 senior citizens came forward as volunteers. These 10 volunteers are very enthusiastic about the campaigns and also enact a 10-minute play depicting ‘elder abuse’ to promote awareness.”

FWA’s physiotherapist also provides home care to the elderly, though this facility is limited to Bandra. “We would like to extend this service; we have many students who have volunteered to help,” says Alpa. FWA had developed several training modules for care of the elderly. The Agency was actively involved in advocacy for the National Policy for Older Persons.
FWA accepts donations which are tax-exempt under Section 80G.

The Family Welfare Agency
Near BDD Chawl No.10,
NM Joshi Marg, Lower Parel (E)
Mumbai: 400 013
Phone: 23082085
Email: [email protected]

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