January 2007 saw the opening of the first Elderly Welfare Centre in Keelalathur. These centres, set up by the Vellore Rural Community Trust (VRCT) in partnership with RUHSA (Rural Unit for Health and Social Affairs), provide a haven for some of the poorest senior villagers to meet, make friends, enjoy activities and eat a midday meal provided by local village women. Since 2007, five more centres have opened in other villages. Four of the six centres are supported by FOV UK, the other two by FOV Sweden.
Two villages combine senior activities with a kindergarten so there is a heart-warming interaction between the generations. The benefits of mixing the ages are enormous for both age groups and the community value for their elders has increased as they are seen in a new light. Each centre provides work and an income for local women who cook the food as well as support for the elderly and now 120 vulnerable and previously isolated senior villagers are better supported by their own community.
The community occupational therapist (an innovative post started by VRCT) visits weekly to carry out exercise classes and has started an income generation scheme, enabling the elderly members to supplement their meagre incomes in a sociable setting. The benefits of socialising and undertaking small projects like paper bag making have lifted their spirits. The local health aide gives basic health talks and RUHSA are able to co-ordinate and provide much needed free health care for the participants.
This scheme is cheap to run and not only provides support for the most vulnerable local elderly population, but does so by providing employment for the village women who run the centres. We have also set up some income generating schemes to support the centres – see the Goat Scheme and Farmers’ Club.
Contributions to the daily feeding cost, caretaker expenses and the two annual trips out would be most welcome. It costs £78 to cover the cost of the weekday meal for one elder for a year, the caretaker is paid an honorarium of £10 a month and the total cost of the annual picnic is £255.