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
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
President: Mr Varghese Chandy,
Marketing Operations Head, Malayala Manorama
Vice-president: Mrs Susy Kurian Kalarickal, College
Secretary: Mr Tito Thomas, Professional Counsellor
Treasurer: Mr P.K.Thomas, retired Manager, Indian
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
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