Sunday, 15 May 2016

Digital Inclusion for Older people: The HelpAge India Experiment!

Ishanti Ghose from HelpAge India, working on creating the Smartphone Booklet for Elders
When Ishanti Ghose, a young working woman, sipped her espresso, at work, on a Monday morning while narrating to her colleagues, her weekend escapade with her grandmother learning technology, little had she known, that, just a friendly conversation with her coworkers will gradually take the shape of an incredible new project for social change sprouting from within  the organization itself! 

Ishanti works at HelpAge India.  

As Ishanti shared her grandmother’s innocence and excitement at learning Whatsapp and Skype, she also realized how this simple knowledge had the power to connect a senior at home to her old schoolmates across the world and also to her grandchildren with just a mouse click! She saw how giving older people access to technology improved the quality of their lives significantly by encouraging interaction and therefore, combating their loneliness.

Within precisely a few minutes, Ishanti had a candid chat with Manjira Khurana, Country Head, Advocacy and Communications at HelpAge India and within a couple of hours the project idea was firmly conceptualized. Manjira says, ‘It was an idea based on fulfilling a need, elderly had, and was backed by empathy towards the cause, conceptualized by a young person. We brainstormed how this could be a potential game-changer for providing digital access to at least the thousands of elderly actively associated with HelpAge through the pan India network of Senior Citizen Associations. Within a week, a basic tech learning primer was developed – “Making smartphone and computer learning, fun and easy.” Ishanti designed the booklet in a couple of days and before the end of the week, we got the booklets printed at almost zero cost and also made it available online on HelpAge India official website and Advantage website for anyone to download it for free. True information access happens when it is not offered at a premium. We wanted as many seniors as possible to start using the primer and get on the way to becoming tech-savvy.”

Young volunteers across the country are using the HelpAge India Smartphone 
Booklet to teach seniors.
HelpAge reached to 100 plus volunteers and young interns to take 2 day training sessions across 15 cities in India. The digital inclusion initiative started in November 2015 proved to be a success, with over 350 training sessions being conducted within two months.

Young volunteers across the country trained the elderly at the senior citizen associations on the basics of Google Maps, Whatsapp, paying utility bills online, booking a cab if stranded etc. One outstanding impact we saw post the creation of the smartphone and computer training primer was that several small local computer coaching institutes reached out to HelpAge India seeking permission to use the Primer to give free classes to seniors.. Several hundred Young techies from software companies have started using the Primer to teach seniors in their office neighborhoods as a part of their CSR efforts.

HelpAge volunteers teaching navigation on Google Maps to elders at a Senior Citizen Association, New Delhi
Says Raman, a young volunteer from an engineering college in Delhi, “The Primer with it’s easy step-by-step processes and with icons shown against each step gives confidence to the elders to revisit their lessons post the training sessions.
In an effort to fight loneliness, young HelpAge volunteers have picked up a crusade to teach the elderly, Smartphones, Skype, Google maps, Internet and more! These little things have gone a long way to make the seniors feel technologically and socially updated and included.

It is so very gratifying for volunteers when their elder “students” thank them, as was the case of Mrs. Neeta Chatterjee, 82 years from Chittranjan Park, New Delhi.

“When I asked my daughter to teach me how to use my new smartphone, I could not understand her rapid fire instructions. But when the HelpAge volunteer came with the technology primer, she explained it slowly going over each step and I suddenly started enjoying the process of learning new technology. Facebook, Google and Skype were no longer frightening strangers, but, became my friends. Today, I talk to my grandson in San Francisco, pay my Airtel mobile bill online, and can you imagine, I even bought a microwave oven on!” says, Neeta. She goes on to add, “My mornings are no longer lonely. After breakfast, I log on to my Facebook account and chat with six of my college mates - Batch of ‘62.”

With this experiment, HelpAge India is more committed than ever to include digital inclusion as one of the empowering pillars of Active Ageing being propagated.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Elderly as a Resource, not a Burden.

This article originally appeared in Livemint here. Author: Arun Maira, Chair (HelpAge International)

Chandrabhaga Laxman Mandre, 80 years, is from Hiwara Village, Vidarbha, Maharashtra, where Geetanjali Mahila Bachat Gat, an eleven member ESHG (ELDERLY SELF HELP GROUP), seed funded by HelpAge India operates. This group, now, is self-sustaining. Through the sales of beautiful saris each month, the group generates over Rs. 7000 and saves upto Rs. 1000 for the elderly women of the ESHG at a central bank account. HelpAge India's experience with ESHG's has shown that using elders as a resource for their own self-help can migrate an entire community from margins to mainstream. While an ESHG is also pivoted on economic independence, it offers greater benefits like, voice, dignity, purpose and a sense of belongingness in old age. 

(Picture Courtesy: Pradip Das, HelpAge India)

India’s progress in improving the lives of its citizens can be seen in a single statistic, namely, the increase in life expectancy at birth. In 1950-55, life expectancy at birth in India was 36.6 years, whereas the average in the world was 46.8 years. By 2010-15, life expectancy in India had almost caught up with the global average: 67.5 years in India, compared with 70.5 years globally. (Source, UNDESA Population Division). The improvement in life expectancy is a result of reduction in poverty and improvement in healthcare and general social conditions. Of course, India has a long way to catch up with the best: life expectancy in some countries is reaching 80 years.
Increase in life expectancy all over the world, which is a desirable outcome of economic and social progress, is creating new challenges. The problem of ageing populations has become a matter of great concern in rich countries, and now in China too. Provisions for pensions and healthcare for the elderly are straining budgets, while there are increasing demands for more employment opportunities for younger people. What should be a government’s priorities?
In 1980, children (aged 0-14 years) were 39.2% of India’s population and the elderly (over 60 years) were 5.9%. By 2030, children will be 23.9% and the elderly will increase to 12.5%, i.e. 190 million people.
Further, India will have 330 million elderly people (19.4% of the population) by 2050. While India has a lot to do to catch up economically, challenges of an ageing population are already besetting India even while it is yet to adequately address other development challenges, especially adequate care of its women and children. How will the needs of increasing numbers of elderly persons be provided for when the demands of India’s youthful population are not yet met, and when there is insufficient capacity, financial and organizational, to meet them?

Elders contributing fistful of grains at HelpAge seed funded ESHG - Grain Bank - Pragati Jesht Nagrik Sangh in Village Federation, Shibala Village, Jhari Block, Yavatmal District, Vidarbha, Maharashtra. Elders from villages inside and outside can donate handful of grains to any amount they desire. The federation members then decide who is the most needy elder who hasn't eaten for days because of lack of resources in old age and donate it to them. The receiver is under no obligation to pay back. The goodness that goes around, comes around as even more beautiful acts of charity for this ESHG, they've come to believe. 

(Picture Courtesy: Pradip Das, HelpAge India) 

The solution is to see the elderly as a blessing, not a burden. The elderly are becoming the fastest growing, but underutilized resource available to humanity. Rather than putting them aside, physically (and mentally), to be cared for separately, they should be integrated into the lives of communities where they can make a substantial contribution to improving social conditions. The benefits of turning the ‘problem’ of the elderly into a ‘solution’ for other social problems is being demonstrated in several countries.
In Vietnam, Old People’s Associations (OPAs) are improving the lives of the elderly in many parts of the country. In a country of 90 million people, as many as 8.5 million are members of OPAs in their village and town communities. The associations are democratically run by the elderly in the communities. They set their own agendas, choose what community causes to apply themselves to, which elderly persons need special assistance and assign responsibilities among themselves. They represent the needs of the community and the elderly to government agencies, who also see them as a vital support for the government’s outreach programmes into communities.
Women constitute the majority in OPAs since they live longer than men. Youth volunteers support the OPAs, providing energy and expertise that the elders may not have. A great benefit of these ‘inter-generational self-help groups’ (as the OPAs are called) is the social capital they accumulate and the cohesion they enable within communities.
The power within socially and economically excluded sections of populations to lift themselves and the communities around them, rather being supplicants of charity and burdens on economies, is exemplified by women’s self-help groups around the world. By organizing to help each other, women in self-help groups are improving the quality of lives of people in many countries. SEWA (the self-employed women’s association), founded by Ela Bhatt, is one of the best examples.
In her recent book, Anubandh, Bhatt advocates the building of ‘hundred-mile communities’ as a way to improve the world for everyone. Anubandh, she explains, derives from the Sanskrit word anu, which means to follow, and bandh, which means a bond, a connection, a relationship. Anubandh, she says, “encourages us to follow the links of mutual interconnectedness towards a sense of wholeness”. Anubandh is necessary for environmental and social sustainability. To illustrate the idea of a nubandh, she gives the example of the ‘jhadoo’, the broom made of soft grass used in most Indian homes. In the poorest homes, it is never discarded, even when it is worn out. In new sha-pes, its fibres continue to serve useful purposes in the lives of people.
For sustainable and inclusive growth, local communities must be enabled to govern themselves. Elders have experience and wisdom that communities can benefit from. Rather than isolating them and making them dependent on others’ charity for their own survival, the integration of elders can help communities to survive and to thrive. They can be the glue that provides cohesion with tradition, and that brings together conflicting movements for ‘special causes’.
The elderly are the fastest growing, underutilized resource that humanity has to address many other problems. Sadly, in transaction-driven market economies, where activities must have a monetary value to be ‘valuable’, the contributions of the elderly to society are not valued. Re-integration of the elderly into communities may save humanity from mindlessly changing into a technology-driven ‘Industry 4.0’ which futurists are projecting: an economy of robots producing things for each other. Investing a little to engage the elderly in communities can improve the health and well-being of the elderly. It can also improve the health and well-being of communities.
About the Author: Arun Maira is the Chairman at HelpAge International. He has held leadership positions across the private as well as the public sectors, working with the Tata Group in India, and Arthur D Little in the USA, before returning to India as Chairman of the Boston Consulting Group.

In 2009, Mr Maira was appointed by the Prime Minister of India as a member of the Planning Commission of India and has been Chairman of the Axis Bank Foundation and Save the Children India. He has authored several books on topics including leadership, capitalism, democracy and his home country of India.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Aadhaar Card – Grave Misery for the Disadvantaged Elders?

Image Source: Livemint 

Old-age brings with it, it’s own misery. In India of the 100 million elderly, more than 51 million live below the poverty line. They are supposedly entitled to pension and subsidized rations. The meagre Rs. 200 per person per month pension (under the IGNOAPS) reaches them late, not at all and in most cases after a payout to the corrupt disbursing authority. The Aadhaar scheme has been touted as the panacea to all these  ills.

While theoretically, the universal adoption of the Aadhaar card will permit direct disbursal of pensions and subsidies to the disadvantaged elders and others below the poverty line, ground realities appear very different.

The Aadhaar card is not proving to be inclusive despite the adoption of technology

The biometric recognition system militates against those with fading fingerprints or ageing irises. There is difference in fingerprint image quality across age groups, although most pronounced deterioration is found in > 60 age group. Error rate in biometric identification significantly increases with increase in age group. Aging results in loss of collagen; compared to younger skin, aging skin is loose and dry. Working with your hands — especially if it involves handling bricks, or other rough objects — can damage prints. The official rebuttal to this argument is that the Aadhaar also records iris information, so it doesn’t really matter. There are two problems with this — one, reading iris information itself is just as error-prone, especially in senior citizens with cataract issues. Secondly, most nodal agencies are loathe to install the costlier iris-reading software.

Pension and Ration is today disbursed using POS machine with finger print recognition. As far as Rations are concerned, the thousands of PDS outlets, are starting to be provided POS terminals. The last few months have shown dismal performance with majority of elders being turned back due to their finger recognition transaction not being successful. In fact it is reported that even successful recognition transactions are taking upto 8 minutes.  Even after poor, indigent elders are being issued with an Aadhaar card, their fingerprints are difficult to match, when they use the POS machines. POS machines connect to a Central Data Registry which houses the biometric details of the Aadhaar card holders. For the POS machines to work – the machines have to be error free, there has to be reasonably high quality internet bandwidth for the transaction to go through and most importantly electricity/battery availability.

The experience in the last few months has been that in majority cases, the elderly are turned away after long waits from POS / PDS shops due to one or the other above mentioned reasons. Now, there are manual overrides which have been permitted, which leads to corruption as is expected. So, what good is Aadhaar?

In the case of pensions, the problems are even graver. Earlier, elders had to go to their banks to withdraw pensions from their accounts. Often, the overcrowding at banks, and the elder unfriendly procedures caused distress. As a solution, a few months ago, Micro ATMs were started to be used, to disburse pensions. The e-Mitr Kendras were converted to Banking/ Business Correspondent (BCs) who authenticated identity of elders with a swipe on the micro-ATM machine.

BC is a representative authorized to offer services such as cash transactions where the lender does not have a branch. Primary role of BC is to oversee the proper development and functioning of indirect banking channels. These business correspondents are subject to RBI regulations and would have direct contact with one or more financial institutions. These BC’s charge a commission from the bank for enrollment of clients, transactions, deposits etc.

Initially only ‘not for profit’ entities were allowed to become B.C’s. However, off late RBI has eased the norms like inclusion of for profit entities and interoperability of business correspondents, aimed at helping customers in rural areas access banking services such as cash deposits, withdrawals, remittances and balance enquiries from anywhere in the country on the lines of ATM facilities available to customers in urban areas.

However, this gives impetus to major corruption as each time a poor elderly who cannot read/write places the thumbprint the transaction is authorized with the BC. When the fingerprint does not match, the elder is asked to swipe his smartcard on the POS terminal. Majority of the times, it is the BC who swipes the card and asks the technology unfriendly elder to provide his PIN number. In effect, the unsuspecting elder has just handed over control of his bank account to the BC. The potential of corruption and mischief is frightening with likelihoods of assuming staggering proportions.

The problem now
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced in the Union Budget that Aadhaar will be made into a law. In fact, the government is in such a hurry that they have already circulated the draft of the bill and decided to pass it as a money bill in this session, so as not to allow any Parliamentary delays in its implementation. This makes the Aadhaar card, and the important biometric information it stores, mandatory for many things. Most serious among this is access to ration and the public distribution system. The poor, who qualify for this, and are often the ones working with their hands, will be the worst-affected. Yet, the proposed law does not have any alternative provisions. It simply abandons those whose fingerprints have failed them, to their own devices.

Technology is expected to be an inclusive mechanism. In not thinking through an alternative for biometrics, the Aadhar technology could work in the exact opposite manner.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) conducted a Proof-of-Concept (PoC) study of biometric enrolment from March 2010 to June 2010 in the predominantly rural areas of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Bihar. One of the objectives of the study was to measure the biometric quality that could be achieved in rural Indian conditions. The study that involved 135,000 biometric enrolments found out that Older people took longer (20% longer enrollment time) to enroll than younger people, and enrollees whose employment involved manual work took longer to enroll than the rest of the PoC population. For the system to be ‘called successful’ there should be at least about 98% accuracy, which is far cry as of now.  

Monday, 14 March 2016

Top Corporates Commit to Supporting Employees’ Ageing Dependents!

Picture Courtesy: Business Insider

Lately, one may have noticed the emerging trend of corporates doling out benefits for their white collared employees’ dependents - aged parents and parents-in-law, with an intention to minimalize the foreseeable anxiety that comes with being a caregiver. 
According to Economic Times, IBM India launched the Senior Care program, to help employees balance work responsibilities with caring for ageing parents and parents-in-law who require care. This allows the company to offer subsidized rates for noncritical but essential care services that employees could request online – saving them time and effort in the process.

The program contains various elements that make it appear promising – provision of escorted pick-up and drop service to elders for hospital/medical centre visits, home health aides or attendant services for 4-12 hour periods as back-up care, home visits by nurses for shots, as well as sample collection for medical tests from residence and delivery of the hard copy of the report.

This initiative will allow IBM to monitor the utilization of various services and, on the basis of the feedback received, decide whether updating existing services or adding new facilities to the existing provisions is required.

In November last year, Deloitte unveiled its Well Being Programme (WBP), under which employees' parents and parents-in-law are provided an avenue to reach out and seek support on financial advice, anxiety-related and other issues.

Advice is provided through an exclusive helpline."Many among the senior population struggle with a sense of relevance and isolation, besides requiring assistance with medical issues. Some may be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and have no idea how to deal with it," said SV Nathan, senior director and chief talent officer at Deloitte in India.

"The helpline is akin to a counselling service, but it's also more than that it's an outlet for our employees' parents and parents-in-law to talk about issues they're grappling with and thereby be able to reach out and ask for help." Even though India is riding the crest of a young demographic wave, sections of its population are also ageing. By 2021, the elderly in the country will number 143 million, according to a HelpAge India report last year.
Deloitte unveiled its Well Being Programme (WBP) in November last year, which aims at providing an opportunity to the elderly – a vulnerably section of society, grappling with issues of loneliness, isolation and depression – to reach out and seek financial and anxiety-related counselling.  One may avail this service through an exclusive helpline, which can be availed through an exclusive helpline.

Similarly, American Express offers a parental care program known as ‘Dil Se’, responsible for providing a 24/7 health helpline – a toll-free number for employees and their dependents. It offers customized preventive and therapeutic health care packages, consultation by senior doctors and diagnostics at discounted rates to ensure the well-being of its employees’ parents, reports Economic Times.

A welcome move from India Inc. indeed! 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Defying Ageing With Swords and Elegance, all at Once!

At 74 years of age Meenakshi Gurukkul defies the ageing process as well as all that is considered to be socially acceptable, as the oldest female champion of the ancient marital arts of Kerala – Kalaripayattu. As she crouches low with her sword clasped in one hand and her eyes unblinking, she is an awe-inspiring vision of poise.

Gurukkul has been tirelessly practicing, training and teaching Kalaripayattu - one of the oldest forms of self-defense, and a strenuous and deadly physical fighting system in the world – for nearly 68 years. 

Around 150 students learn Kalaripayattu in her school, Kadathanadan Kalari Sangam, in a tiny hamlet in Vadakara near Calicut, Kerala. 

Techniques have been passed down through generations, written in a palm ‘booklet’, delicate with age. When the school term is over, Meenakshi takes part in stage performances too. Such a brilliant definition of #ActiveAgeing.

This inspiring lady, who only seems to grow younger with age, is living proof that age is but a number. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

She Was Illiterate. Yet She Went on to Educate The World About Uncontrolled Mining.

Credits: The Better India
Kinkri Devi did not know how to read and write, yet, she went on to became a pioneer activist who educated the masses about the environment, and raised concerns about the effects of uncontrolled mining. Heroes come in all forms, but octogenarian, green-heroes that wage a war against an unjust system to fight for what they truly believe in, with great conviction, are rare. Kinkri Devi is one such green-hero

Credits: Tehelka
Due to her social background, Devi was denied education and thus resorted to domestic help services. Working as a maid at an early age, her childhood was a challenging one, riddled with problems. At the tender age of 14, she was married to Shamu Ram, a bonded laborer who died of typhoid when she was merely 22, and was forced to become a sweeper.  As the years rolled by, Devi watched the world around her change drastically, perhaps for the worse. Her once beloved surroundings were desecrated by unrestrained quarrying, and the once-rich paddy fields of Himachal Pradesh were slowly yet steadily disintegrating, before her eyes, much to her horror. Seeing the chaos around her she decided to do the impossible – she took a vow to fight against the mining interests.  However, her campaign was dismissed by the quarry owners, who accused of threatening them for her own vested interests.

After a long period with no response to her suit, she headed for Shimla and staged a 19-day hunger strike outside the court until it agreed to take up the issue. The strike won Devi national and international headlines. In 1987, the high court not only ordered a stay on mining but also imposed a blanket ban on blasting in the hills.

Faced with the prospect of closing their operations, her opponents threatened to kill her, but she continued to fight. The mine owners appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled against them in July 1995, adding to Devi's renown.

Kinkri Devi passed away on December 30, 2007, but she left behind a legacy. She was a true fighter and survivor and hers is a story that must be shared. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

Meet India's Solar Engineer Grannies!

(Image Courtesy:

In 2003, the Barefoot College, Tilonia, Rajasthan, decided to train illiterate elderly rural women as solar engineers. The biggest challenge at the time was to convince donors, policy makers, as well as the male members of the community to accept the ‘impossibility’ that these women could be trained.
But why choose illiterate and semi-literate elderly women to be the solar pioneers rather than men, who will be more likely to have some education and be easier to teach?

“Do you know why we insisted on older women? Because training men is pointless. They will grow restless and go to big cities in search of jobs. Women have more patience to learn the skill. And especially since they are from poor families, they will stay back home and prove their worth to their communities. ,” says Sanjit Bunker Roy, Founder, Barefoot College.

'In six months we can make a grandmother into a solar engineer!'

It ain’t just the age, it’s the grit and determination beyond those silver streaks of hair, that changes the world. To know more, read The Better India coverage on Bunker Roy's initiative and The Guardian's coverage on Women Solar Engineers.  

Friday, 29 January 2016

104-year-old 'Turbaned Tornado' spins a storm every time he runs! #BeLikeFauja

Fauja Singh, Image Courtesy: ESPN

While most of us have fallen into the trap of life’s daily drudgery – the monotonous routine of a job, housework and children, leaves us with little respite; it’s hard not to cling onto miraculous little inspirations that come our way from time to time.

One such wonder comes in the form of Fauja Singh - a centenarian marathon runner who is living proof that anything can be achieved if you only put your mind to it. All you need to do is throw in some commitment, dedication and self-belief. An unassuming, deceptively frail man, whose face is lined with fine wrinkles and a long billowing beard that cascades down to his chest.

One can’t help but marvel at this 104-year-old British Sikh runner of Indian descent, who also goes by the names ‘Turbaned Tornado’, ‘Running Baba’ and ‘Sikh Superman’. Singh, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Professor Albus Dumbledore, a fictional character in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, is the proud record holder of being the world’s oldest centenarian endurance marathon runner.

When Singh was asked how he managed to finish the grueling 26-mile (42.195 km) marathon he said very matter -of-factly, “The first 20 miles are not difficult. As for the last 6 miles, I run while talking to God.” 

Born in Punjab on April 1911, Fauja Singh’s childhood was not an easy one. As a child, he was often bullied by children for being too thin and was referred to as danda. Ironically, he also failed to develop the ability to walk until he was 5 years old. However, by the time he was a young adult he grew a fervent love for running. This was short-lived as he gave it up post the 1947India-Pakistan partition, only to revive his love for it at the age of 89.

Singh’s heart-wrenching story is that of personal loss and his relentless pursuit to recover from the debilitating grief that accompanies it. In the year 1992, Singh’s wife passed away. While he was in the process of coming to terms with this loss, tragedy struck again in 1994, when his son Kuldip was killed in a construction accident. Refusing to succumb to the crushing grief that comes with the loss of a loved one, , Singh sought solace in running by rediscovering his love for it, and thus, started the healing process. 

This miracle man is living proof that life only begins when you wish it to. For Singh it began at 89 years of age - and it is still going strong as ever. Fauja is known to have replaced David Beckham as the poster boy of the popular sports brand Adidas, as no one epitomizes the fact that age is just a number, better than the ‘Turbaned Tornado’. To conclude, as Adidas aptly put it in their popular slogan – Impossible is Nothing

Tweet to @HelpAgeIndia_ with hashtag #BeLikeFauja what you find most inspirational about his story! 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Let's Furnish the Needs of an Old Age Home! #81Smiles

Krishna’s voice, each morning, resonates at a local temple in Cuddalore with her melodious prayers, drawing people towards the temple. But not many know about the pain she hides behind these prayers. She lost both her children early in life. At their old age, Krishna and her husband lost all support, with no roof over their heads.

Today, Krishna is a resident of Tamaraikulam Elders Village or TEV, the first Home for the Aged constructed by HelpAge India and her life has change three sixty degrees.

“There was nobody to look after us. Thus we came to this HelpAge Home. It has been 6 years now,” says Krishna.

 Watch TEV's beautiful stories by clicking on the above video.

Krishna is not just another resident of the home, but also the main store manager and accountant, managing the home’s finances. It keeps her happy, active and gives her a sense of self-worth. But like any home, Tamaraikulam needs constant care and supplies for its upkeep, so that its elder residents live with the much needed care and comfort, to spend their later years in dignity. 

HelpAge has partnered with Snapdeal so that with your help these necessities can directly be handed over for 81 elderly residents in the Tamarikulam Elders Village (TEV) Old Age Home. 

Click on: and contribute a simple household item in kind. Each bit counts!


Situated at Cuddalore, about 20 km from Puducherry, TEV provides an end-to-end solution for elders with multiple age friendly facilities. The home is self-sufficient in terms of energy and food, and has adequate medical facilities. The most unique aspect of the home - it encourages active ageing to keep them physically active and mentally alert as well as financially secure through  livelihood - building schemes like farming and making handicrafts. Built by HelpAge, through the donations made by the viewers of NDTV, the village is recognized as a model old-age residential project by the Government of Tamil Nadu. This free stay facility for the rural poor can accommodate 100 residents’ and serves as a safe haven for many others like Lakshmi who have found the warmth of a home again.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Extraordinary Octogenarian: Does this 81-year-old hold the key to teaching kids how to understand math?

This article was originally published in Washington post here. Original author credits: Perry Stein.

Mary Johnson is not a person you’d typically associate with the future. She is 81 and talks about teaching math in the District during the 1960's as if little time has passed.
But week after week, Johnson still drives from her Clinton home to the after-school program at the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation campus in Southeast and, according to officials at the program, consistently lifts underperforming math students to grade level and beyond. This month, she received a copyright for a diagnostic test that she says can assess specific gaps in students’ math knowledge in minutes.
She’s now working with the foundation to raise money to digitize the test, which includes eight to 10 math problems for each grade level, so that it can be used in schools throughout the country.
I believe all students can learn math if they understand the laws,” Johnson said. “If a student masters a problem on my test, I don’t care what test they take, they master it.”
Johnson, who has a doctorate in math education from the University of Maryland, looks far younger than her 81 years. She’s petite, but she can still move around the classroom, from the white board to the students and back with ease, making eye contact with each student along the way.
“Why?” she repeatedly asks 10-year-old Ange Sery as she sits with him and another student reviewing how to add fractions.
Johnson’s methods rely on drilling in the basic concepts of math — or, as she puts it, “the laws of math” — and ensuring that students understand why each step of solving a problem is necessary.
If a student doesn’t conceptually understand that they can’t add apples and oranges together, for example, how will they know what to do a few years later when they see different variables in an addition equation in algebra class.
When, after a few tries, Ange says the word “factors” to explain what he needs to do before he adds the two fractions, Johnson’s soft voice goes higher and her words spew out faster as she praises the boy’s correct answer. She keeps stuffed folders documenting the progress of each student, and after 60 years of teaching, still delights in a student figuring out a math problem.
“Her teaching is more unique,” said Ange, who has worked with Johnson for more than two years and says he now receives mostly A’s in his fifth-grade math class at Watkins Elementary School. “If you don’t know anything about math, she takes her time and teaches you.”
Johnson was raised in Norfolk and says her mom declared that Johnson would be a teacher even before she was born. In high school, she would finish her entire math textbook halfway through the year and then teach her classmates the work. They liked the way she clearly explained the concepts, and they requested that the teachers allow Johnson to lead the class instead.
I always dreamed I would be a teacher, but I never dreamed I would teach thousands of children all over the world,” she said.
After graduating as valedictorian, she went on to attend Virginia State University, where she earned her degree in less than three years.
Her résumé in the decades since then hits on most facets of education: She has taught at traditional schools and colleges, participated in research projects, developed curriculums, and co-founded the Washington Math Science Technology Public Charter in the District in 1998, where she served as principal for a few years. Her husband, Eugene Williams — also a prominent educator in the area who previously served as an assistant principal at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School — works with students in the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation after-school program in reading.
Throughout her career, Johnson has encountered educators who have adopted her methods, which include flowcharts that students use to break down every step of the problem so that teachers can see where students are struggling.
“She’s non-threatening and builds students’ confidence,” said Arlene Maclin, a professor at Morgan State University who has worked with Johnson for decades. In 2003, Maclin had recruited a class of low-income African American students for an optical engineering program at Norfolk State University, but the students’ math skills weren’t up to college standards. She brought in Johnson to lead an intensive two-week math workshop and, according to Maclin, nearly all of the students were ready for calculus by the end.
She doesn’t teach tests; she teaches them how to think logically,” Maclin said.
For now, Johnson is focused on teaching children at the after-school program and expanding her Success in Learning Math Approach, which she’s dubbed Silma. She has trained hundreds of teachers across the country in her methods, instructing them on how to employ her diagnostic tests and quickly compose a student profile from them.
The diagnostic tests are brief, she says, but students are required to show their work, and Johnson says each question is carefully designed to test a student’s grasp of multiple concepts.
The turnaround she’s done with these students is stunning,” said Eleni A. Rossides, executive director of the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation, which serves low-income students throughout the District. “She understands how to deliver the information, how to teach it. People come away from working with her, like, ‘Wow, I get it.’ ”

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Caring for Elders - A Matter of Duty, not an Obligation

The process and consciousness of ageing can be overwhelming, bringing with it the inevitabilities of loneliness, death and irreversibility. Despite this, it may be deemed a positive experience for many. However, its success does not merely depend on longevity of life but the quality of life of an individual.

The joint family structure in India has gone through many structural and functional changes and has seen a gradual, yet steady decline. It has been replaced by the nuclear family set up, synonymous with independent living and fewer filial obligations. An undesirable effect of this has been the isolation of the elderly. This social change has led to the dissolution of traditional means of support for them.  An emerging crisis pertaining to the support for such isolated elders looms in its place, instead. Who takes on the mammoth task of responsibility for their care and support?

According to The Hindu, by 2050, India will be home to one out of every six of the world’s older persons, and only China will have a larger number of elderly people, according to estimates released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF).

The report released by UNPF and HelpAge India to mark the International Day of Older Persons — observed on October 1 — suggests that India had 90 million elderly persons in 2011, with the number expected to grow to 173 million by 2026. Of the 90 million seniors, 30 million are living alone, and 90 per cent work for livelihood.

The report says the number of elderly women is more than that of elderly men. Nearly three out of five single older women are very poor, and two out of three rural elderly women are fully dependents. There is also an increasing proportion of elderly at 80-plus ages, and this pattern is more pronounced among women.

The elderly are a vulnerable section of society, susceptible to abuse and neglect which leads to depression, health problems, cognitive decline and an overall low quality of life. In such a scenario, it is absolutely necessary to address the problem with mindfulness and compassion.  It is the moral responsibility of each person to contribute to eldercare – to provide financial assistance and emotional support for their ageing parents or relatives.

However, the responsibility of supporting and caring for elders lies not only on individuals but society as a whole. Corporates have played a significant role in the past to ensure a segment of their profit is efficiently contributed to the elderly cause. India has one of the oldest traditions of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) - the role of which has evolved over the last few decades.  It is the ethical duty of businesses – big and small - to give back to the community by supporting causes that better the lives of the less privileged.

As per the new amendments of the recently passed Companies Act-2013, setting up old age homes, day care centres and such other facilities for senior citizens will now come under the purview of CSR activities. As per the current provisions of Companies Law, certain profitable companies are required to shell out at least two per cent of their three-year annual average net profit towards CSR.                                                                                                                   

The Financial Express in a recent article reported, that according to the Crisil CSR Yearbook, in fiscal 2015, small listed firms spent relatively more on CSR than their bigger counterparts. While this is heartening, let us hope that, in future, small and big corporates continue to work in tandem to achieve a common vision – integrated social rehabilitation to enhance the lives of senior citizens across the country.     

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Social Impact Story from HelpAge's Grassroot Eye Care Camps

Madhu Saha, 75, started to lose his eyesight and it put a huge strain on him and his family. 

The loss of vision made him unbearably unhappy as he was unable to do his income earning work of cooking food and delivering it to the customers. He started to feel like a burden to his family members who were now also doing his share of work. 

Therefore, when he heard about an eye screening camp run by Bharati Sangha in association with HelpAge India and Acclaris through campaigning and leaflets, he visited the camp. At the screening center, Madhu was diagnosed with cataract in both eyes. He was brought to Susrut Eye Foundation & Research Centre at Salt Lake Base Hospital for operation in his right eye and after the operation he got his vision back.

Madhu is overwhelmed! He chuckled with extreme delight when the bandage was removed and he could see everyone clearly. 
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He is now back to work and is cooking and delivering food to his customers without trouble.

Your contributions to HelpAge go a long way in spreading light. Truly! :)

Monday, 18 January 2016

Dhanabakyam's Home Coming: Magnificent Impact Story of an NGO, CSR & Media working Together!

Unique positive story on the power of TV Channel, integrated working of multiple NGO’s and the backing of a Corporate that is CSR driven!  

On 3rd June 2015, HelpAge India HelpLine 1800-180-1253 received a call from Krishnan who spotted an elderly woman near Albert Theatre, Egmore, Chennai.

The 82 year old lady been on the street, surviving only on food provided by the public that passed by. She had spent about five terrible nights on those very streets, scared of stray dogs and swarming dengue mosquitoes. On receiving Krishnan’s call, the rescue team reached the spot and rescued the elderly lady.  On enquiry, the team ascertained that she had lost her way and landed in Chennai. Her memory loss added to her woes; her whereabouts, family details were unknown. She was mentally and physically lost. After completion of the initial documentation formalities and police memo, the rescue team rehabilitated her on the same day, to Little Drops Old Age Home at Porur, a shelter for the deprived and deserted people.

Though the shelter was warm and loving, it was an alien place for Dhanabakyam who found coping up with a new environment difficult. Mary, the caretaker of the home spent time consoling, encouraging and caring for the old mother. Gradually Dhanabakyam started adapting to the shelter's environment and was beginning to be happy with her fellow-friends of this home. She started engaging herself in serving food for lunch, dinner to inmates and collecting milk in the evening, but with a deep grief of inexplicable memories of her loved ones back home. She was optimistic that one day her relatives would find her and used to share this with Mary during her evening tea time.

Back home, the whole family was in search of their mother, Dhanabakyam’s whereabouts for almost six months.

A TV Channel's Coverage came in as a messiah for Dhanabakyam!

On 6th December 2015, when the whole world was viewing the devastation and aftermath of Chennai floods over the Sun News TV with pain, one family found their reason to smile and rejoice. The news channel aired the plight and distress of Little Drop’s Old Age Home due to inundation and immense hardship due to flooding. It was here that Dhanabakyam’s family spotted her in the news footage!!

On 9th December 2015, the entire family with children, grandchildren reached Little Drops Home after initial glitches of locating the place. The 'desire-come-true’ moment had finally arrived for Dhanabakyam who was finally reunited with her family. Though she was feeling sad leaving her new friends and the Home, re-uniting with her family brought inexplicable happiness and smile on her face!

We have heard innumerable stories of pain, loss of lives and property due to flood havoc in Chennai. But this heart-rending story of family reunion and the happy ending has only been possible due to: the reach and power of Mass-Media, HelpAge India's  Help Line 1800 – 180 - 1253, effective responsibility of Police and people like Krishnan and the CSR support/backing by L&T Construction, that supports both HelpAge India and Little Drops, that had played major role in the life of Dhanabakyam and her family --- and thousands of such needy.

“Since the inception of Helpline project in September 2014, we have reached out to nearly 2000 such elderly people of which, 507 were rescue cases from streets; all were rehabilitated in old age homes or repatriated with families.” Says, HelpAge India Chennai representative. 

Such is the impact of working together of responsible individual citizens, committed NGO’s, Police machinery, Govt. Institutions, CSR-driven organizations and the reach/positive coverage of TV Channel.

Dhanabakyam now sits by her window as she sips her evening tea, and hums her favorite song. Yes, each evening!