Projects For Volunteers
Since arriving in Goa I have been working on two community projects for volunteers. In the mornings I visit 2 old people’s homes. I would like to write something amusing and superficial about my experiences, but it would not be appropriate. The homes are run by Franciscan nuns, one is for men and one for women. Many of the residents are highly educated and have led fascinating lives.
Home For The Aged
In Indian it goes without saying that elderly parents are looked after by their children. Inhabitants have usually ended up in these homes as they did not marry, hence did not have children, or their children have emigrated.
So many young people leave Goa to find work abroad in Australia or the USA, particularly in the fields of IT and medicine. The result is that the parents become destitute unless they are fortunate enough to get a place in a Catholic or state-run home.
These places are terribly basic. The elderly sleep in dormitories, with no space for personal possessions, and no fans. During the day they sit on plastic chairs in a room with nothing more than a tiled floor and peeling paintwork, or out on the veranda. There is no TV and one newspaper for 40-50 residents.
Another problem is that they speak a variety of languages; Konkani, Marathi, Hindu, Portuguese, English etc so many cannot communicate with each other and the staff. Obviously I can only chat with the ones who speak English, but they all wave or hold my hand when I arrive and just sit and watch me. I am the novelty factor in the endless monotony of their existence.
We talk about Brexit (oh dear) and how Goa was a much better place when it was ruled by the Portuguese, who left in 1961. Interestingly, one of the hot topics at the moment is how the liquidation of Thomas Cook will cripple the Goan economy. 30,000 room bookings have been lost and cafes, restaurants, shops and hotels are all closing. One old man said his daughter had worked for the agency for years, and had now lost her job, and could not feed her children. It is easy to focus on what happens in the UK, and forget the global impact of such a demise.
Most of these old people have wonderful stories to tell. One was the private secretary to Indira Gandhi, one ran a school for 100 orphans in Africa and another was very senior in the Indian army.
They speak so fondly of the lives they once had, with glinting eyes as they recollect their tales. A 96 year-old lady told me how an 9’ long python had slithered into her house one evening, watched by the pet cat, and simply curled up under the dining table. I asked her what she did and she replied ‘I left it there until it decided to leave. We don’t hurt animals, we are all God’s children.’ I didn’t volunteer what I would have done…
After every visit I am struck by the serenity of these elders and their huge faith in God. They pray together for 3 hours a day. I think that is what saves them from the realities of their mundane lives and unifies them.
After each visit they ask ‘You will come tomorrow won’t you?’ So perhaps they need a lot more companionship as well. I am actually going to feel terribly guilty when I leave here, and I can’t promise to ‘come again tomorrow.’ Every day I give so little but learn so much. One man asked me if I would come wearing a sari, as I would look so nice in one with my blonde hair. You know what? If it makes a lovely old boy happy, I might just do that…