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Aged, but not alone

Joygopal Podder, assistant director general, HelpAge India, who was in Chennai recently, spoke about the NGO's initiatives towards supporting and empowering senior citizens.

"IT IS estimated that India will have around 35-crore senior citizens by the year 2040, of which 40 per cent will be below the poverty line." These were the startling statistics given by Joygopal Podder, assistant director general, HelpAge India, who was recently in Chennai. Started in 1978, the organisation has been addressing the needs of the destitute elderly in the country.

"One of our most popular programmes is `Adopt a Gran' under which the aged, who have neither family nor financial support, are adopted for three to five years by sponsors. At present, we have over 1000 `Adopt a Gran' programmes in Tamil Nadu, and one of the reasons I'm here is to expand the programme in 100 CSI churches in the State," said Podder.

"We address the emotional, economic and medical needs of the aged. We do this in two ways — by directly involving ourselves and helping them, and through mediated help, involving schools and NGOs," he said.

Taking cognisance of the needs of the aged is as important as other social issues. The organisation has, therefore, been actively involved in creating awareness among all age groups, especially school children by teaching them to give importance and show respect to elders in their families and in society.

"We have a school education programme where we try and sensitise school children to the problems of senior citizens. We involve them in raising funds for the destitute elderly, encourage them to visit old age homes and get involved in other such activities," said the assistant director.

The organisation has a special programme called `Reaching the Unreached', which has 51 mobile medical units (MMUs) catering for the medical needs of the elderly, especially in the rural areas. "These units, donated to us by various organisations, corporates and NRIs, are fully equipped to handle emergencies. So far, the organisation has helped perform around 60,000 cataract operations.

"The organisation has a network of hospitals, which sends HelpAge a list of patients who need treatment, and we provide the funds. Most often we get people who have no illness but come to the MMUs just to talk their hearts out. Hence, we also have counsellors who sometimes accompany the paramedics on rounds," said Podder.

HelpAge has an income generation programme under which vocational and self-empowerment training are given to the aged who are physically and mentally healthy. "We assist private old age homes that provide accommodation to the aged free of cost with funds and other facilities. Our future plans include creating a help line for the elderly where they can call and talk to the counsellors or doctors. We are on the look out for volunteers and professionals who are willing to spend time responding to the callers. We also intend to create a community development programme under which the MMUs will eventually be transformed to stationary medical units with a local doctor who will make periodic visits," he said.

If you are an organisation or a volunteer who wants to work in tandem with HelpAge in keeping its commitment to serve senior citizens, then contact helpageind@satyam.net.in or call 5322149. Those interested in the cause can also attend a seminar on "Healthy Ageing", being organised by HelpAge today between 9.30 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. at the Kuchalambal Kalyana Mandapam, Chetpet. The Join Hands Campaign `All Ages... One Spirit' will also be launched on the occasion.

PRASSANNA SRINIVASAN

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