Chennai’s lonely grannies now have reason to smile

Students of the NSS wing at Ethiraj College for Women are volunteering enthusiastically for the "Talk to a Granny" programme launched by Chennai-based Senior Citizens Bureau, with the aim to cheer up elderly women battling loneliness in the big city.

It has been two decades, and yet the struggle does not seem to end. Parvathy, a resident of Saidapet, is 70 years old and is seen actively moving around her small shop.

“Our joint family became a nuclear family after my two sons got married. It was tough, and then my husband passed away too. Life was even more difficult now and then with my savings, I started this small shop adjacent to my house to keep myself engaged. I long to see my sons but they are busy with their family,” says Parvathy while handing over toffees to two small kids.

Metro cities boast of having countless sources of entertainment to keep citizens occupied. Yet, there are people who are excluded and left behind. Women like Parvathy long for companionship and not entertainment. Chennai-based Senior Citizens Bureau is an association that is helping people aged 60 and above to battle with problems such as these.

“Senior citizens are being subjected to boundless mental and physical trauma owing to reasons ranging from personal issues to health. Depression is a dangerous affliction that we have observed in many senior citizens in the city. The ‘Talk to a Granny’ programme is designed to help them fight depression,” says Singaraja, the Chairman Emeritus of Senior Citizens Bureau.

About the programme

In 2016, the Senior Citizens Bureau and Ethiraj College for Women jointly launched ‘Talk to a Granny,’ a programme where a college student would ‘adopt’ a granny and talk to them over phone once a month or so depending on the needs of the senior citizen. The National Service Scheme (NSS) wing of the college has interested volunteers who are willing to take part in the programme.

“The programme was launched last year and our NSS volunteers have been in touch with the grannies over the last few months. Within a few months of the launch, the Senior Citizens’ Bureau identified 25 single women aged above 60 who would benefit from the service; they submitted the forms to us and we have arranged for our volunteers to extend their service,” explains Dr Navaneethalakshmi, the NSS co-ordinator of Ethiraj College for Women.

In addition, the Senior Citizens’ Bureau celebrated World Elders’ Abuse Day which falls on the 15th of June at the premises of Ethiraj College for Women to raise awareness among the current generation.

“We have been working with many educational institutions and youths to address the issues faced by elders in the city. The ‘Talk to a Granny’ programme is relatively new to us. The main objective of the programme is to promote inter-generational bonding,” adds Singaraja.

To make sure that the selected grannies are genuine, the Senior Citizens Bureau does a background check once they receive the application. “The safety of the college students is important and we also make sure we offer services to people who are desperate, so we screen the profile before validating their application. It is also to be noted that we invite the application of single women,” comments Nagendra Prasad, Chairman of the Bureau.

To know more about the programme, citizens may contact the Bureau through the links or contact details shared here.

Sensitizing college students

On October 13, 2017, the Senior Citizens Bureau celebrated World Elder’s Day at the college premises and the ‘Talk to a Granny’ programme had a live demo for the first time by a student and a granny.

At the inaugural program, the Principal and Secretary of Ethiraj College for Women, Dr A Nirmala said, “We have signed up for this programme to fight loneliness, but in due course of time we may be able to provide additional aids to the grannies. The issue we need to understand here is that while some of them may be financially well-off, and would have enjoyed power during their youth, once they start to age, they cannot buy the sense of belongingness. Even people with money suffer from depression and I want my girls to learn and be sensitized so that they can serve the society and their parents well.”

Previously, the NSS wing of the college has been involved in visiting orphanages, old-age homes but the ‘Talk to a Granny’ initiative is the first of its kind and volunteers are eager to take part in the programme.

Need for such initiatives

“I’m a very outgoing lady and I love to be with people. But my son and grandchildren do not find time to spend with me though I live just a street away. My brother, who is also a senior citizen, has a schedule of his own which does not always include me, because I happen to be engaged in household chores. When I find time in the evening, I go for a walk but after hearing my neighbour’s chain-snatching experience, I am wary of that too. In my younger days, I used to be surrounded by people but that is not the case now. I require a companion to talk to and now that I have my granddaughter Jeyasundari, who has adopted me, things are looking bright again” says Sabita, the happiness evident in her face.

For a student like Jeyasundari adopting a granny brings back the memories she shared with her late grandmother and she is more than happy to be a part of the program. “I lost my paternal grandparents when I was a child, which was compensated by my maternal grandparents who also passed away recently. Since I live in a hostel, having a granny like Sabita aunty is really a boon and I feel as if I am talking to my own granny.”

However, despite this and other initiatives for senior citizens, many elderly individuals themselves feel that they should learn to be emotionally independent too. Gopal, a resident of Selaiyur says, “Times have changed, we cannot rely on people to drive away our old-age loneliness. I spend my time painting, photographing, writing jokes and gardening; yet I feel 24 hours is just not enough! I have been alone for more than three decades. I feel such programmes, while helpful, cannot bring a permanent solution; being independent is the solution.”

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