Tender Loving Care
What started as an informal meeting of a handful of retirees is now an oasis of care and compassion for the elderly. JOHNY PAZHANILATH on `Souhrudam', which is a fine example of self-help.
WHEN OLD age becomes a matter of crippling diabetes, stifling bronchitis and rising blood pressure; when it takes a handful of pills to sustain the senile life, is there hope for our poor aged people in this fast, modern society?
In a strange world, where the younger generation has much `better' plans than looking after the `unproductive' seniors, Souhrudam makes a difference. This unique organisation, with a noble mission, has already become a beacon of hope for many deprived, old people in and around Cheranelloor village. A tribute to the selfless service of a few retired men.
While the poor, elderly folk are not a popular pick in the thriving charity market and the good old tradition of caring for such deprived lot has become outdated, this innovative organisation has been on the mission of helping the needy aged in this nondescript village. And the glee writ large on many wrinkled faces speaks volumes for its service in the past three years.
Interestingly, while retirement means a cocooned homely life for many, a team of over 50 passionate retirees from this sleepy village are attempting to make a social change by devoting a big chunk of their life for the welfare of the senior citizens of their village.
Most of them are professionals and government employees, retired or VRS- opted, from State and Central institutions. They include doctors, professors, engineers, bank managers and company workers. Of course, there are dedicated ex-servicemen too.
"Our society gets no benefits from professionals once they retire," says its president V. A. Aravindakshan. "Most of them withdraw silently into the confines of their homes. So we wanted to make a change," says the doctor. A noted paediatrician, who retired from government service, Dr. Aravindakshan has been one of the `brains' behind this noble venture.
Souhrudam was the result of the burning desire of these men; a desire to do something benevolent rather than be reduced to an unproductive grey-head. These birds of the same feather flocked together to form an organisation of seniors with a mission of charity and social service. This organisation was formally inaugurated on Gandhi Jayanti day in 2000.
The first challenge the team encountered was to formulate ways and means to assist the public. After a lot of thought and debate within their group, they finally decided to focus attention on the marginalised sections in the locality, like the aged patients who could not afford the whopping expenses of medical investigations, medicines and frequent doctor consultation.
Finding the funds for these services posed an obstacle. The team, to tide over the teething problems, mobilised the community and offered memberships to 50 sincere, service minded retirees. When 26 life memberships brought a donation of Rs. 5, 000 each, the rest of them donated according to their financial status, fetching the capital sufficient enough to launch their project.
Registered under Charitable Societies Act, Souhrudam conducted its first health programme in November 2000. "It was a big success," says Joy Ambat, the advisory member of organisation "It was attended by nearly 100 aged patients. Today, what distinguishes Souhrudam and its health programme is that while many vanish into oblivion after conducting one or two medical camps, we've been conducting this regularly. Of course, it has helped us gain public acceptance as a dependable charitable society," adds Mr. Joy.
Headed by Dr. Aravindashan and 13 visiting doctors from different branches of medicine, the health camps were an instant success; admit many beneficiaries of the programme. So far, the Souhrudam Charitable Society has conducted 28 health camps and helped over thousands of aged patients. The society has a well-stocked mini pharmacy, lab equipments and other paraphernalia needed for a full-fledged clinic.
Doctors diagnose and treat the patients with costly medicines and also keep track of their health profiles. Those who need hospitalisation are referred to specialty hospitals with a primary clinical report from the panel doctors of the centre.
"In fact, this organisation is a blessing for us," says Baby Augustin, a 62-year-old woman who suffers from chronic diabetes. "I 've been well looked after by this society and getting free medicines and medical checkups ever since I attended the first medical camp here two years ago," reveals Ms. Baby, even as she waits for her turn at one of the recent medical camps organised by Souhrudam.
According to Manapuram Stalin, 63, yet another retired worker, Souhrudam's monthly health programme is really a solace for the aged. "When specialist doctors come to your doorsteps and take care of your health every month, who needs a hospital visit?" asks Mr. Stalin, a patient with diabetes, blood pressure and piles. A regular at the camp, he carries the full course of medicine for a month.
Predictably, many families eagerly await Souhrudam's free health camps. For Pankajaksha Menon a retired FACT employee and his wife Sumathiyamma who live on a meagre pension, Souhrudam is a blessing in disguise. "While a small pension is not enough for a family how can we afford costly medicines? Souhrudam is really helping our family," says Ms. Sumathiyamma.
Medical camps are always a hit and there are many organisations that conduct them. But what is so special about the health ventures of Souhrudam? "Unlike the occasional medical camps ours is a regular programme and what is new about it is that the funds for the entire programme is generated through donations from our society members alone," says P.M. Manuel, the secretary of the society. "We've received a lot of individual support and will continue functioning that way for the benefit of the poor," Mr. Manuel.
"We haven't conducted any fund-raising programmes so far, nor do we go around asking for donations from outsiders," states Wilfred G. Williams, the chairman of the society. A retired bank manager, and the guiding spirit of the organisation, Mr. Williams says that Souhrudam's membership is restricted to only people prepared for social service. "Finding the right kind of members to work for the society is a difficult task. For, the members' attitude towards a patient counts a lot."
Fuelled by the success the members are now planning to reach out further. They have plans to have programmes like an Educational Endowment Scheme and scholarships, in memory of its founder member the late Syed Mohammed. Souhrudam has already drawn out a blue print for its future projects. They have already collected Rs. 50, 000 for their projects through chit funds, thereby ensuring public participation in their activities.
What started, as an informal meeting of a handful of retirees in 2000 is now an oasis of care and compassion; Souhrudam has now grown into an eternal spring of hope for the poor, aged and needy of the village and its neighbourhood.
Send this article to Friends by