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NEWS LETTER - December 2010

HELPING THE OLD TO SMILE AGAIN

It is a wet Wednesday morning in November. But it is business as usual at the Manganam centre in Kottayam, where one of the four day care centres for the old (Pakalveedu) by the Smile India Society is run. All the four day care centres function from 10 a.m. to 3.30 p.m.
Smile India was conceived and registered as a charitable society in Kottayam in 2002. The Manganam day care centre is its flagship unit, by virtue of being the first Pakalveedu started the same year.



 

BONDING OVER CHEERS AND TEARS


There is the usual bustle there as people arrive, notwithstanding the rain. The members greet each other with hugs and tight clasp of hands, signalling the pure joy of meeting again. The get-togethers at Manganam three times a week is something the elders look forward to, come rain or shine.
It is nearing 10 in the morning and the chairs arranged in the drawing room of the warm and welcoming Manganam home are filling up as cars ferry members to their ‘home away from home’ for the day. There is complete bonding among the 15 or so old men and women gathered there as they participate in the various activities. While most members at the Manganam centre are over 80 years, a few are 90-plus.
There are some 70 elders in all at Smile India’s four day care centres in Kottayam. Those above 60 years are eligible for the programme. There is a Christian environment at the centres but their doors are open to all. There are members from different religions, the rich and poor; those suffering from dementia or having problems walking; many sick with worry from feelings of loneliness or rejection; and almost all of them fighting fears, especially the fear of death.
At Pakalveedu, the elders discover that they are not alone in their infirmities or insecurities. And by sharing life stories, praying and uplifting each other they begin to appreciate the sunset years of their lives. They draw succour from each other, laughing and crying together like members of one family.
Some say, they have become spiritually strengthened and now look at old age positively. In the company of like-minded people they feel encouraged, respected, recognised and above all liberated from their fears and worries. The camaraderie and fellowship at Pakalveedu have taught them to be contented and accepting of others, whether children, in-laws, grandchildren or the extended family, they add.

A DAY AT PAKALVEEDU

The day begins with a brief discussion of the day’s headlines. A time of spiritual enrichment follows with singing, prayer and a message. There is physiotherapy, health- tips, counselling, celebrations, talent time, memory games and sharing of experiences. Lunch is an integral part of the programme in all the centres because the fellowship around a dining table has immense therapeutic value for the old. Some rest and relaxation later, they are ready to return to their houses in the evening.

EVENTS AND OUTINGS
It’s not all work and no play at Pakalveedu. All of them come together for picnics, Onam and Christmas celebrations and entertainment programmes. On these occasions members showcase their talents in writing poetry, singing, dancing or public speaking. The last event was the celebration of World Elders’ Day in October in collaboration with the Social Work department of BCM College in Kottayam. Pakalveedu member P.O. George (86) had composed a special poem on the occasion.

That’s not all. Dignitaries and celebrities visit the centres periodically and interact with the members on a personal level.

  MORE IN THE PIPELINE
Those at the helm of the Smile India Society reckon that their objective is to make old age memorable for the elderly. The day care centres are designed to address the problems of the old in as holistic a fashion as possible so that they no longer feel like castaways of society. SMILE when elaborated would read as Serve More Intensely and Love till the End.
As word spreads about Smile India’s initiative, requests pour in to start more day care centres in Kottayam. In fact, a year after the Manganam centre took off, the group joined hands with the Jerusalem Mar Thoma church here to start a similar venture once a week, at the church’s premises in Kodimatha.
Eight years down the line, with a Pakalveedu in Kurichy and two more just opened up in Vadavathoor and near Medical College, Kottayam. Smile India has five day care centres running with great gusto, says Mr Tito Thomas, Secretary, Smile India Society and the hands on man behind the Pakalveedu concept. And there are plans for more. In fact, there are queries from other parts of India as well, he adds.

DONATIONS AND A DESIRE TO SERVE

The Pakalveedu is not a profit venture. It has no funding or a huge resource base. All the services offered to the members are free, except for a nominal Rs 60 charged at the Manganam centre daily from those who can afford to pay. The day care centres run on donations from well-wishers and the good intentions of a band of committed workers to make it happen. As Mr Thomas puts it, “We have come this far in faith and a sincere desire to serve.”

A counsellor and teacher, he is backed ably by the other office-bearers of Smile India Society:

Patron: Rev. Dr. Geevarghese Mathew, Dean, Mar Thoma Seminary, Kottayam

President: Mr Varghese Chandy, Marketing Operations Head, Malayala Manorama

Vice-president: Mrs Susy Kurian Kalarickal, College Lecturer
Secretary: Mr Tito Thomas, Professional Counsellor & Teacher
Treasurer: Mr P.K.Thomas, retired Manager, Indian Oil

Members:
Mrs Prema Mammen Mathew, Chief Editor, Vanitha
Mrs.Rebecca John, Teacher
Mr.Joseph Philip, Trustee, CSI Church, Machukad,
Dr Anil Varghese, (Dentist - G.V. Dental Clinic Kalathilpady)
Mrs.Deepa Renjith Mathew, (Teacher)

The salaried staff comprise Safina, the social worker who is present in all the centres on the days they meet, Mrs Shanti Tito and Mrs Annamma Gabriel, co-ordinators in Manganam and Vadavathoor respectively, helpers Chinnamma and Sindhu for the kitchens and other chores in these centres and Vinod the driver.

MILES TO GO...
Smile India Society strides ahead in the faith and trust that the good work they have started will not go unrewarded. Meanwhile, they have miles to go... to bring the smile back on the faces of the greying population.

 



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