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A shelter from the storm for the elderly

The Quaid-e-Azam Musafirkhana situated in the compound of the historic Mayo Hospital, is a unique project taken up by doctors and social workers of Lahore. It is here that several old men and women come and find shelter, writes Kamal Siddiqi.

world Updated: Dec 18, 2008 00:21 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

The Quaid-e-Azam Musafirkhana situated in the compound of the historic Mayo Hospital, one of the oldest and largest hospitals in the Indian sub-continent, is a unique project taken up by doctors and social workers of Lahore. It is here that several old men and women from all over Punjab come and find shelter. The arrive here for a number of reasons.

In the case of Iqbal Ahmad, 80, who once owned a transport business, his family abandoned him and this was the place he heard where he could get some decent food and a clean bed. Gulzar Mai came to the home after she was found wandering aimlessly in Lahore without any one to look after her.

For Delhi-born Muhammad Taufiq, a technician by profession, it was boredom that brought him here. Taufiq, 73, says that at the home "there is much sadness." But at the same time he adds "but I was not happy at home that is why I live here." In exchange for small tasks, these men and women whose ages range between 65 and 80, are able to live with some sort of respect in a society where such facilities are rare.

As Pakistani society changes, says Iftikhar, a retired corporate executive who now helps run the centre, so do the needs of the people. He says that ten years back such a facility was "unthinkable." But now there are four such home in Lahore. All are run through private donations as the government has not yet woken up to this need.

"Its a shame really for us in our society to have to have such facilities. But it is a reality," says Iftikhar. He says that older people are now seen increasingly as one more mouth to feed. With rise in poverty and incidents where Pakistani families are compelled to give their children to social welfare organisations, older people are becoming more and more vulnerable. "The older persons are the bond of the house. Their presence ensures that there is someone to oversee what is happening in the house. A housekeeper and minder of children. But many see them as a financial burden," comments Taufiq.

Dr Mahmood Shaukat, a senior member of the hospital says that they expect the number of people registering at their old folks home to increase in the coming years. "We have to face this fact. We cant keep on living in the myth that the family takes care of its old people. As times change, so will the attitude of people."