They may not have much for themselves but that hasn’t stopped the residents of Anandam Old Age Home in Chennai from giving back to society in every way they can. Here’s their inspiring story.
The twinkle in her eyes brightens and a smile plays on her lips as the elderly woman sees the students sitting around her with open books and unwavering concentration. The elderly woman is their teacher and one of the residents of the Anandam Trust’s Old Age Home at Gangai Nagar in Kallikuppam, Chennai. The students are poor, deserving children from the vicinity, who require extra coaching, and the venue is the free Education Centre run by the trust. This is the story of the senior citizens from this old age home, who may have come from needy backgrounds themselves but believe in sharing their knowledge, skill and effort with those who need it the most.
“They are like the grandchildren that we don’t have,” says Mrs. Savitri about the children she teaches. She had been a teacher before coming to Anandam as a resident. “When a child who used to score around 30%, scores about 70% to 90%, the sense of love, satisfaction and achievement that we experience cannot be described in words. Some of them even top the class,” she says with a touch of pride.
“These children are not only showing immense progress, but are also developing a grandparent-grandchild like bond with their teachers,” says Bhageerathy Ramamurthy, Founder Trustee of Anandam. “The idea to start this Education Centre came from our resident, Mrs. V.Parvati, lovingly called Aachi amma, who expressed a wish to coach young children, as a means of giving back in some way to society.”
Parvati or Aachi amma, a trained former teacher, happily exclaims about the direction the Education Centre has taken: “From seven students, the number has now increased to 150!”
The primary school children at the Education Centre are coached by 10 residents of Anandam who have either been trained as teachers or simply love to teach. The Trust hires teachers from outside for the secondary school children. Financial assistance is extended to students who wish to pursue higher studies. They are also given nutritious snacks and drinks, so that they do not start their classes on an empty stomach.
The Anandam Old Age Home is unique in many aspects. The construction of its present premises began in April 2005 with 60 women volunteers executing a spectacular Kolam (rangoli) patterned as a Kancheepuram silk saree and covering an area of 9320 sq.ft. The Rangoli won a place in the Guinness Book of World Records and brought much needed attention to the efforts of the trust.
“Anandam is the culmination of our vision to provide a completely free home for destitute and helpless senior citizens,” says Bhageerathy. “All the residents neither have children to take care of them, nor any source of income.”
In other words, these are senior citizens with nobody to call their own, yet many of them believe in being of help wherever they can. At present, there are 101 residents in the age group of 60-90 years staying at Anandam. Teaching children is not the only service to society the elderly residents here believe in offering.
In 2015, when parts of Chennai witnessed devastating floods, the residents wanted to do whatever they could for the stranded people. They cooked, packed and distributed 1500 food packets, everyday for 12 days, to the flood affected areas. Recognising their efforts for flood relief, the senior citizens were given the Real Heroes 2016 Award by Adding Smiles Media Ltd.
A Shelter for Life
The Anandam trustees have ensured that the complex is built to accommodate the needs of senior citizens.
“We have been careful to provide anti-skid flooring with ramps and railings wherever necessary, for the safety of the elders,” says trustee Mr K Narayanan.
In 2015, Anandam started the Medical Care Centre, which has a lab with modern diagnostic tools and doctors on call. Free medical services are also extended to needy people in the adjoining villages.
But what makes Anandam Old Age Home stand out the most are its residents themselves. Apart from their zeal for social work, they also believe in staying active. Everything in this old age home is managed by them with enthusiasm, including jobs like cooking. Most of the senior citizens here, with the exception of few terminally ill residents, want to keep themselves fruitfully occupied.
To see a group enjoying cutting vegetables in the morning, another group making breakfast and yet another organising lunch, is a delightful sight.
“Everyone who joins here has some unfulfilled desire or untapped talent, which they reveal at their time of admission. We are trying to fulfill all their long standing wishes and have arranged for music, stitching and yoga classes apart from developing a garden in our own premises,” says Bhageerathy, who was named the Best Social Worker by the Department of Social Service and Noon Meals Scheme of Tamil Nadu, in 2012.
The pride in this place they consider their home is visible in the way the elders show us the spotlessly clean interiors, the spacious dining hall, the well stocked library, a beautiful prayer hall and the two entertainment halls where music programmes and discourses are held.
“Our residents are our strength,” Bhageerathy says. “They are old. They have no one to call their own. But they live here like a big joint family. Their love and affection can be seen and experienced by everyone who visits our home.”
If you wish to know more and help these seniors, please visit http://www.anandamoldagehome.org/index.html
This article was written by Lalitha Balasubramanian for www.silvertalkies.com