Ever since Care Unlimited was founded it has been committed to its vision of ‘changing the experience of old age through active aging and meaningful engagement’. It has been our focus right from the start to create a difference in the lives of the elderly by not just providing them with a reliable support system to deal with their daily activities, but also to engage with them routinely in discussions around topics close to their hearts, explore activities that will give them a sense of accomplishment and enable avenues for making social connections. Going beyond this, we have continually strived to come up with creative ideas to engage them into activities that would bring variety to their lives and enable them develop a positive frame of mind leading to a better mental health.
Memory Montage Initiative
What we found while interacting with our elders is that every one of them had interesting stories to share. And we listened to each of these. It meant a great deal to them. These stories are tales which chronicle the history of a bygone era. They are also stories of substance, humour and grit. More often than not, their loved ones hadn’t had the time to listen to them and in the process, lost out on valuable chunks of their parents’ and grandparents’ lives.
Thus, the idea of bringing these priceless memoirs to life, came to us. We began to capture these incredible life stories, woven together with emotion and the sheer joy of a lived experience – and made incomparable memories with our short films. We named this initiative ‘Memory Montage’. Memory Montage has given us a deep sense of connection with our seniors. They too were left with a sense of accomplishment and happiness on being able to document a story of their lives.
The Pandemic Changed Everything
While this was all good, with the advent of the year 2020 our lives changed unprecedentedly. The world grappled with a pandemic hitherto unknown, confronted a virus that upended the way we lived, worked, loved, connected. While all of us struggled to cope with the sea change, people who felt most bereft and isolated were the elderly. In one fell swoop, they were cut off from their loved ones, threatened by the fear of increased mortality, unable to even carry out their everyday errands. Ordinary chores which they had taken for granted were disrupted. These chores actually allowed them the flow of a routine and gave them purpose.
It is then that we realised that they needed guidance to navigate through the change we were all facing. Like the rest of us, they also needed respite from the boredom of confinement, from the inertia of lockdown. The only way out was by engaging with a community and forging connections.
Seek & Connect
At Care Unlimited, mental health of senior citizens is a priority. We have always focused on activities that lift a person’s mood and increase their sense of self-reliance. Our team designs person-specific engagement plans. When the pandemic began, we were operating at an individual level. But then, we wanted people to connect in groups. We reinvented our rules of engagement to bring entertainment to the drawing rooms of the elderly and help them communicate with each other.
Since life was confined to the indoors and we had all embraced the virtual medium, we decided to experiment with a new idea – a virtual adda. We wanted this to be interesting yet different, informative yet interactive; we wanted a structure and yet we sought the loose-limbed ease of an impromptu evening with old friends. Finally, we wanted it to be audience-driven and yet free-spirited. And thus, our ‘Seek & Connect’ series was born!
How it Took Off
We talked to people from diverse fields to get us off the ground – to take us through a virtual journey in history, mythology, culture, nostalgia, music, and food. We requested all the elderly in our immediate frame of reference to come on board. At first, they were apprehensive but we helped them become tech-savvy. They came only to listen but we helped them voice their points of view. We curated a range of topics and they helped the process by sharing with us their own stories, each of which were unique because it was recounted with the warmth of a lived experience. And slowly, the spirit and magic of a real adda began to get recreated over a zoom call!
Colourful and Engaging Sessions
We chose our topics from areas which we believed would kindle and stoke their interest. With our able story-tellers, we visited the streets of Kolkata in search of food & culture, snuck into Raj Bhavan, took a train to Sonar Kella to unearth the history of the fort town of Jaisalmer. We went down a cultural memory lane when we saw how Rabindra Sangeet embedded itself into cinema, remembered fondly, the forgotten tunes of popular songs from the 1970s and the profound wisdom behind folk ditties.
The Bengali community is said to celebrate 13 festivals in 12 months. Prior to Kali Puja, we heard how Ma Kali captured the heart of Kolkata, and after Christmas, we explored the genesis of the famous Kolkata Christmas cake. We saw people share their passion and engage with each other, even over a technical subject like photography. The engineering history of the 5000-year-old Indus Valley civilization became vivid and colourful.
Remembering and Recounting
Even though we have taken great care to ensure that our adda sessions are anchored by people with experience and knowledge in their relevant fields, our efforts have been more towards inspiring our elderly listeners into remembering and recounting memories. And we have been amazed at how involved they have been, how joyously they have shared their experiences, and at the breadth of their knowledge – all of this has shone through and stood out at our adda sessions.
And so, the last ten months have transpired into a wonderful journey of making new friends, and finding new talent in people who have come together during times which were tough and unexpected. At a time when nations and townships were closing borders, we managed to open the floodgates of friendship and communion.
The members of Care Unlimited meet every Friday to chat and laugh together. We are delighted that our ‘Seek & Connect’ sessions have found their own momentum.
Images courtesy: Care Unlimited Facebook page