My heart belongs to the elderly people

Sunday November 4 2018

Helen Kariuki is the founder and director of Senior Citizens Nursing Home in Kikuyu.

Helen Kariuki is the founder and director of Senior Citizens Nursing Home in Kikuyu. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By ANJELINE OKECH

Who is Helen Kariuki?

Helen Kariuki is a wife, a daughter, mother, a sister, a grandmother, and an aunt to many.

 

What's your ideal day like?

My day starts with a prayer, seeking God’s guidance. Being that I have multiple responsibilities, and charity begins at home, I start with my nuclear family — near and far — then take care of everyone else who I hold dear.

 

What were you doing before starting the home for the elderly?

I was a teacher, among other roles.

 

What actually drove you to this project?

After dealing with experiences and death, and seeing my mother and father-in-law with dementia, I realised what most people don’t understand. Loneliness is not a disease but it kills.

I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what we went through. The agony of seeing my mother suffering gave me sleepless nights which I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

 

How many senior citizens are you currently taking care of? Are all of them resident at the home?

We have both in the home and outreach programmes. We visit the elderly in their homes and also organise for them to come visit and interact with the residents. They get therapy and counselling to understanding that old age is a stage of life and that they should be comfortable with it. It is important to make growing old fun.

 

Which services do you offer?

We give holistic care without preference. We offer home based care, which includes elderly invalids who need constant care. We also want families to come visit their elderly relatives who are conversant and are able to remember them and create more fond memories. We care for people physically, emotionally and spiritually. We have a resident pastor but are open to all faiths.

 

How do you manage the cost of running the project? Do the senior citizens or their families pay?

The project started as a self-driven project, with outreach programmes then developed into home based care. We have some residents’ relatives who are able to support us with a monthly stipend but we have people who we fully support. We have been very fortunate to have friends who are like family and buy into our idea of care who from time to time help us with material and monetary support. We also have income generating activities — we farm greens, poultry and cattle so that the residents never go hungry. That combined with the extra cash we get we manage to get by.

 

What’s the admission process?

It is a simple process; age is a factor, we conduct an interview, then a general medical check-up and also try to find if you require any specialised care. If you do, you have to provide your own medicine but we’ll make sure that you’ll take them as prescribed.

 

What do you find most challenging in this mission?

Family and culture are a huge hindrance; the aspect of home based care is still very foreign. Inheritance and family issues are real. We can only help the willing. The hardest part is when we find elderly people with dependents; we have realised that we need to take care of them too. With this era of HIV and Aids, many elderly people are forced by circumstances to take care of orphaned children and it becomes a problem if they have to leave the dependents to get help themselves.

 

Are there members of your family who are involved in the project? If yes, how?

Senior Citizens Nursing Home is a home away from home. My family is fully part of it. We all have different perspectives that are very relevant and progressive in their own way. Even as we connect with residents on various levels, we have eclectic views that relate to everyday issues.

 

What drives you?

My personal and professional challenges have led me to meet people in all walks of life. My life endeavour is to help elderly people in whatever way I can. No man is an island, we are built to be social beings.

 

What do you enjoy most about running a nursing home for elderly people?

Seeing elderly people happy, and living life to the fullest. Having old people full of life at an old age, ageing gracefully and having hope and looking forward to the next day is what makes my day.

 

How do you spend your free time?

I enjoy reading books, cooking and having conversations with my children and grandchildren.

 

Where or to whom/what do you run to when things are difficult, when you are drained or when the going gets tough?

I believe in the power of prayer and then things fall into place. I also have a good support system in my family.

 

What mantra do you live by?

I love to treat people how I would like to be treated.

 

Highlight some of your successes

Seeing people come alive at Senior Citizens Nursing Home, the joy and the tears in the families to see the improvements in their relatives say enough for me.

 

What’s your greatest joy?

Seeing the elderly having hope for tomorrow.

 

Where is the nursing home located?

The home is situated in a serene atmosphere about 30 metres from the main (Kikuyu-Dagoretti Road) — C63 and is cosseted between residential homes.

 

What do you say to people who think taking their elderly parents or grandparents to a care home is “UnAfrican” or evil?

Human beings are social beings; affection is not African it is human nature.

 

What are your future plans for the home?

I would love to have a self-sustaining home to take care of the elderly and their dependents. I would like to enlarge my poultry farming and even go big into dairy and pig farming which I have experience with.

 

Parting shot?

“Loneliness is not a disease but it kills”.

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