By Nishant S.Gurung
Situated in the outskirts of Budanilkantha, Kathmandu, Tapasthali Bridha Ashram is an elderly shelter home currently housing 12 elderly members between 60 and 87 years.
Bhargabi Sharma, 82, who is also fondly called Muwa — meaning mother — at the old age home, founded the shelter in 1992. Besides the building that accommodate the elderly, the shelter home also has a cow barn and a prayer room for them to pass time.
“We initially had 25 elderly persons living here, but many of them passed away due to old age and now we have shrunk to 12 members. Arrival of three new members in the facility has been postponed due to the lockdown,” says Lata Aryal 54, primary caretaker who has been a part of the organization for the last 13 years.
Since the onset of COVID-19, old age homes have adopted strict precautionary health measures. “We have stopped allowing visitors due to the pandemic. People who donate daily essentials and food items are also not allowed inside the facility. They drop all the items outside the main entrance and we only use the donated items after they are properly sanitized,” says Aryal.
“By God’s grace, we haven’t faced any hardships during this lockdown period. Financially, we’ve been safe and sound. Food and daily essentials donated by various well-wishers have been enough for the moment. We received two sacks of rice from the Ward Office for which we are grateful. We grow vegetables at our own kitchen garden which is organic and healthy. The only sad thing is that one of our members, Madhu Sudhana 82, passed away during the lockdown. She was living with us since Tihar last year and she wasn’t so well,” says Aryal.
The facility primarily functions through the financial aid of Bhargabi while funds coming in from other generous people support the shelter home. The lockdown has not only limited the number of visitors but also the number of donors.
The elderly spend their time by cooking food, knitting, working in the kitchen garden, watching television, and singing bhajans.
“Only a few residents understand what coronavirus is and how dangerous it can be for the elderly, but all of them have an idea that there is a new type of illness which is similar to common cold and is dangerous,” says Aryal.
“I haven’t gone out since last year but I am happy to be here with my friends. I get the news through radio and television about the ongoing pandemic and I have learned that elderly people are more vulnerable to the virus. But, frankly at my age I am not so worried because I have enjoyed my fair share of life, and I am happy and content at the moment,” says 82-year-old Laxmi Tamang, who has been living in the facility since 2002.
77-year-old Chinimaya Shrestha arrived at the shelter home in 2014 from Lubhu. She came here because of her weak financial status. “My daughter often comes to visit me and calls me once a week. I have realized that there’s a disease called coronavirus because of which she has not been able to come to visit me for the past six months. I am very happy at the facility as my day starts with a morning prayer and then I prepare food for the cows. I also enjoy cooking and spending time in the kitchen garden. We feel happy when people visit us. I hope the situation turns normal soon and we can have more visitors,” says Shrestha.
Though the pandemic has drastically changed everyday life for everyone, just like most of us, the elderly at the shelter home have also learned to cope up with the new normal and restrictions brought about by the virus.