Where the elderly have a home away from home - Daily Nation

Where the elderly have a home away from home

Friday November 5 1999

By NATION Correspondent

Tucked away in the Kasarani area of Nairobi, just off the Thika-Muranga Road, is a charity home where "little sisters" are improving the quality of life for poor elderly people.

Tracing their origin to 1840, through the efforts of three sisters from a charity within the Catholic Church, the Kasarani charity has made it its vocation to serve the elderly and identify with the poor.

These are the Little Sisters of the Poor, originally called Servants of the Poor.

Their Kasarani home is called Nyumba ya Wazee. Established in 1985, it has emerged from a humble facility of two wooden structures accommodating only five people to a modern one with seven residential blocks. Each of these blocks is further subdivided into 16 self-contained rooms. The fast expansion of the home has ensured that 63 elderly people now have a roof over their heads.

There are two homes in Nairobi and Mombasa with another to be established in Eldoret soon.

In traditional African societies, senior citizens were taken care of by the younger generation. The system has since broken down. It is therefore not surprising that today Little Sisters has 289 homes world wide.

But how do they manage to run these homes and provide for the basic necessities of these senior citizens? Right from the early days when the three sisters started their charity work, a lot of their resources were obtained through charity.

They collect donations from organisations and individuals. These come in kind Ð clothes and foodstuffs Ð while others give cash. Still others volunteer to spend some time with the elderly people who are often lonely. The residents of Nyumba Ya Wazee receive medical attention from two doctors and a physiotherapist who offer their services free of charge.

The objective is to put more life into their days than days into the lives. The quality of their lives is also improved by the provision of entertainment. But perhaps the greatest facility at the home are the little plots the residents have been given for growing food crops. This keeps them occupied, but also provides some food for consumption within the home.

The whole atmosphere within the home encourages the spirit of togetherness. For instance, those who are in wheelchairs are helped to move around by those who are stronger. The infectious spirit of sisterhood is what forms the backbone of the home and has kept it running since its inception.

The Little Sisters have a quality of presence, charm and dedication that make a lasting impression on many visitors to the home. It is never clear sometimes where the next meal will come from yet they believe that God will always provide.

Their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience in society is an added challenge in today's world where people have become very egocentric. The Sisters' noble course invite us in the light of faith to consider the role of the elderly in the family, the church and their rich contribution to society in terms of experience.