MArathwada NAVnirman LOKayat ‘MANAVLOK‘, the organization I am part of, is working on myriad thematic areas like watershed management, health, education, women empowerment, disaster relief, agriculture, and livelihoods. Think of a thematic area and I bet MANAVLOK has already worked on it! This 40-year-old social organization has focused on holistic rural development in three districts of Marathwada: Beed, Osmanabad, and Latur. The organization envisions solving the socio-economic problems of the communities by developing a sense of ownership in them thus making them self-reliant and the lead controller of their actions.
Of all the diverse thematic areas that MANAVLOK is working on, one is ‘Trupti Kitchen – A Community Kitchen for Senior Citizens’. The program originated in 2015 when Marathwada was facing a severe drought. A prolonged dry spell in the region led to an increase in water scarcity, low crop yield, and food shortages which escalated the number of farmers’ suicides.
Villagers didn’t have any other option. They started migrating to other places in search of food and water. With an ideology of “Gaanv ka Paani and Gaanv ke log Gaanv mei hi rehne chahiye”, MANAVLOK started practicing watershed management activities in the villages. The focus was to increase the water storage capacity by constructing various watershed structures. We appealed to the villagers to practice compartment bunding (one of the watershed structures) on their own farms as Sharmdaan (means labour – Shram and donation – Daan) and in return, we promised to provide them with a one-time meal. Convincing villagers was not easy. But with an assurance of getting one fixed meal they agreed. The initiative had a profound impact. Apart from constructing watershed structures, the villagers, specifically elderly people who were struggling before to get food, were now able to get a fixed one-time meal.
The program came to an end in a few years. But in these years it became a source of food for the elder population. India has around 100 million elderly people and the number is expected to increase by three folds in the coming decades. Due to the absence of assured income, the elderly faces numerous problems. An overwhelming portion of this group are widows who suffer from multiple miseries-being women, being widows, being poor, and leading more agonizing lives than men.
As a consequence of their deteriorating physical health and non-availability of income generation opportunities, the old people become entirely dependent on their children for their basic needs. However, the children are not always supportive. Moreover, in many cases, the elderly are subjected to abuse at the hands of their children.
MANAVLOK learned that domestic abuse of the elderly was escalating at a high rate. Children refused to give food and are unbothered about the health of their parents. In some extreme cases, the young couples move out of the village leaving behind their own kids with the grandparents. As a result, even at the age of 65 years, they were compelled to work as servants in the houses to earn a meager amount. With no one to look after them, they suffer from a degree of malnutrition and health ailments.
Realizing the hardships senior citizens had to face every day, the organization initiated a kitchen to support and provide two-time meals to the villagers who are above 65 years. These senior citizens have no source of income while some are people with disabilities, destitute, widows, and elder orphans. Adhering to its belief, MANAVLOK is running this program with a participatory approach, where a small contribution is taken from the beneficiaries. The intention behind participatory contribution is that the beneficiaries feel a sense of ownership and partnership. Since 2016, the program is being run in 34 villages. We also support the senior citizens in their health care by providing them with sticks, tiffin, wheelchair, beds, clothes, and solar lamps.
Trupti kitchen program is not only limited to providing food and healthcare to senior citizens. The kitchen became a space for them to come and sit together, and chat with each other. Having no support from their children and no one to talk to, senior citizens easily tend to slip into loneliness and depression. Through this program, we try to make them feel like a part of society. We celebrate festivals with them where special feasts along with a variety of snacks and sweets are prepared for the senior citizens. We also celebrate their birthdays to make them feel special, wanted, and loved.
“I do not have a family. My husband died 20 years ago. Since then I have been living all alone. But Trupti Kitchen and its beneficiaries make me feel like I am a part of a big family. Now I don’t get upset about not having a family during festivals. These people never let me feel that I am alone.”– Kishori bai who is a part of the program for the past two years
Apart from the direct impact of the program where we see improvement in the physical and mental health of the elderly, there’s an indirect impact too. The program has instilled a sense of responsibility among the children of the elderly. They now want to take the responsibility for the well-being of their parents. Trupti Kitchen’s initiative is beyond the extremities of a program. Because of this initiative, the elderly in need have a sense of relief and feel more socially included. The only agenda of the program is- to give a better life to the elderly!