It was after her husband’s death in 2004 that Karusseril N Thankamma, a resident of Kottayam, first thought of putting together an initiative for elderly women like herself.
“We spend our days alone. All we wish for at this age is company, which most times is unavailable as our children and grandchildren are busy working or studying,” the 89-year-old tells The Better India.
The former teacher of NSS Upper Primary School, Thampalakkad, is well aware that this is an unavoidable situation and that family members can’t be around all the time. In order to efface loneliness from the lives of elderly women around her, as well as to make their days productive, this retired Hindi teacher decided to modify her 200-year-old ancestral home into a daycare.
She says the idea was to provide companionship, engage elders in interesting activities to maintain their health and give employment to young women in the locality.
The thought was supported by Thankamma’s children Sreekumar, Satheesh Kumar and Geetha. They contributed to the renovation of the home and helped their mother spread the word about the initiative.
“Amma doesn’t need an introduction in our locality,” Sreekumar, who is the chief commercial officer in a New-York based firm, says. “Because she was a teacher, she is connected to more people than us. She is someone who likes to give all her earnings and learnings to other women for their empowerment. She is one of the most energetic people I know. Even at this age, she moves around and comes up with new ideas to expand the daycare.”
The home, now called Manavodaya Pakalveedu, was officially registered as a charitable society and began operations on 11 October 2017. “It was on amma’s 84th birthday that the daycare started functioning. From then on, every year, her birthday is celebrated here with us and the 30 inmates, who are all above the age of 60,” adds Sreekumar.
As Thankamma is aged and all of her children are away with jobs, a set of five employees are working permanently in the daycare to ensure the wellness of inmates and carry out day-to-day activities.
The staff here makes candle lights, incense sticks, paper bags, detergents and cleaning lotion. The products made are sold via a shop near the daycare and the income is fully used to keep the place running, says Thankamma. While the staff does most of the work, the inmates help in packaging the products.
“The home also offers a free course on stitching to anyone who can join. All the employees at the daycare are young women, two of whom have completed Masters in social work,” says Thankamma teacher’s daughter Adv Geetha who visits the home every weekend and contributes to the activities.
Companionship and joy
A week ago, Thankamma teacher celebrated her 89th birthday with her day-care friends at Pakalveedu. As part of the celebration, a computer centre was inaugurated here, where free coaching is provided to people in MS Office and accounting. Two instructors are appointed to teach the students.
A day in the lives of the inmates of Pakalveedu starts at 8 am when they are picked up from their houses by the day care’s vehicle. After a secular prayer, the women move in for a meditation and yoga session followed by newspaper reading and breakfast.
They can engage in the packing of candles, incense sticks or detergent as per their wish. Others can engage in conversations, reading, farming or games. They are taken back to their respective homes by 5 pm after an evening walk and coffee together.
“All the inmates here are women who spend their days alone at home after their children leave for work or studies. While some of them are brought here by their children, some come by their own interest,” says Sreekumar.
In order to ensure the health of the inmates and to help during emergency situations, a health clinic and lab have been set up here. A doctor, a nurse, and a lab technician are available during day time.
“We hold a monthly meetup of family members where the inmates can showcase their talents. We also celebrate birthdays, Onam and Christmas together at home. A small one-day trip is also arranged every year with all the members and staff,” Thankamma says.
She also adds that the credit of the success of Pakalveedu goes to all the inmates here. “Their love and prayers are the driving force of this initiative,” she notes.
Padmakumari S, a 68-year-old inmate of Pakalveedu says, “I have a deep relationship with Thankamma teacher’s family. She taught me in school and my family was acquainted with her husband. From day one of Pakalveedu, I have been a member here and it gives me immense happiness and peace to be with women of my age group.”
She continues, “I engage in incense sticks, candle and paper bag making. The staff here takes good care of us with proper food, medicines and routine health check-ups. Both my sons are staying in separate houses with their own families, and if not in Pakalveedu, I would be spending time alone. I hope more such homes come up in every locality for elderly women like me.”
Meanwhile, Thankamma teacher notes, “I have always felt a responsibility to give back to the society that taught numerous things to me. Also, spending time with these women brings me unmatched joy and peace of mind. We also owe a lot to the young women who help us in running the home efficiently. Through employing women and providing them with a space, I consider this initiative as a method of women empowerment too.”
Thankamma also hopes to promote sustainability by making cloth bags from her daycare and help people make a habit of using this alternative of plastic. She says that it is never too late to start something new, a venture or a habit.
Edited by Divya Sethu; Photo credits: Manavodaya Pakalveedu/Facebook.
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