“A lot of us senior citizens, who already lead secluded and lonely lives, are further deprived during the pandemic,” says 78-year-old Sabita Radhakrishna, a textile researcher and author. She adds, “this affects the young and the old; days of uncertainty make the elderly feel low.”
Sabitha is in touch with many senior citizens via Udhavi, (‘help’ in Tamil) an NGO she launched seven years ago. “Some of them live with their sons or daughters, some live with spouses and some, like me, live alone. I am especially concerned about those of us who need periodical medical attention,” she says.
This year, Sabitha was looking forward to the annual get-together of CEG55, her late husband’s classmates group, at Pune. “But our plans stand cancelled due to COVID-19. All the members are in the age group of 85 to 88, spread across the globe. We have stayed in touch since the late 1950s. I organised an online get together on July 15 and it went well,” she says. “The joy on their faces seeing one another and the sense of camaraderie was worth all the effort.”
Realising that the elderly can adapt well to virtual meetings, Sabita decided to bring together the beneficiaries of Udhavi as well online. “Each of us spoke for a few minutes and it was such a joyous occasion. I then decided to organise a virtual meeting with some of the senior citizens Udhavi was helping,” she explains.
Pre-COVID-19, volunteers of Udhavi would visit beneficiaries’ homes periodically to have tea, play board games or go on a walk with them.
During lockdown, they have been providing telephone support. “Last week, our first virtual meeting was launched and along with it, I also organised an exhibition of antiques which was put together by architect Thirupurasundari Sevvel and team. It was well-received and there was a lot of excitement,” she says. Udhavi will be conducting such online meetings regularly going forward.
In 2014, Thirupurasundari Sevvel, Akshayaa Selvaraj and Sivagama Sundari T, launched Nam Veedu Nam Oor Nam Kadhai. The trio of architects and certified restorers, has together collected over 350 antique objects. “We have organised touch and feel exhibitions on varied themes across different venues in the city. We let senior citizens touch and feel the artefacts, and this experience makes them nostalgic. We have now gone digital, but here again the stress is on participants gaining an immersive and inclusive experience,” says Thirupurasundari.
Her team gathered information about each of the participants, their interests and hobbies and then came up with the theme for the event.
The team focusses on elders and children. Before lockdown, they used to conduct various programmes for the elderly including outings, book/poetry readings, heritage exhibitions and story reading sessions. “Now during the COVID-19 crisis, we do story/poetry reading over the phone or on virtual platforms. I wish to connect children with this segment of the population as they have such lovely stories to narrate,” says Thirupurasundari.
Sabita says “Friendship and companionship are important for this section of the population and our society must spend quality time with the elderly every day.”
Udhavi aims at staving off loneliness of elderly people. The NGO can be reached at 9176055814. The Nam Oor Nam Kadhai team can be reached on @namveedu_namoor_namkadhai