If you go to one of these elders’ homes you may see fathers shedding silent tears for no one to hear and mothers weeping to get at least a glimpse of their children, at least once before they die. It gives us something to think about. Why is this? Being a Theravada - Buddhist country, where are the teachings of the Buddha, the Buddhist principles? According to the maha mangala suthra, ‘maatha pithu upattanan’ ( taking care of elders is a noble act ) is a vital part when it comes to certain responsibilities.
In this modern world, it seems we have lost all the social values. Even those who call themselves Buddhists are deceiving the Buddhist principles . We live in a world where we are unfortunate to see our elders put in kennels and cages.
Recently there was a story which drew attention about a father who lived in a rural area who did not even have the money to buy a piece of cake for his son, on his birthday and sacrificed his life to a crocodile when he went fishing to find some money. And there was also a story of a son who nearly sacrificed his life making the ‘Maathuposaka jaathaka’ became a reality, whereas, there are children who bring disgrace to their own parents by enjoying the benefits gained through their hard earned money and even go to the extent of assaulting them.
This implies a question are we going back to the stone ages. For those who ill-treat and hurt their parents, bring a lot of sin to their accounts, which is indicated in Buddhism as ‘ Ditta Dhammawedaniya Karma’. So called ‘big shots’ ‘such as lawyers, doctors, and engineers, who put their parents who brought them up, educated them, and brought them to the position which they are in today on the streets.
One might think those who are in ‘elders homes’ are much privileged, but do they know the mental agony they have to go through, yearning to catch at least one glimpse of their children before they die.
This is the very reason why popular actor and teledrama producer Sarath Namalgama, tries to bring up the Heal and Feel concept to make the public aware of what these old parents are going through, and also screening movies to smoothen their minds and develop their mental health. We spoke to Mr. Namalgama regarding this project and in which way we should uplift their lives and make the latter part of their life more pleasant. During this month of sharing, caring and giving, let us give a thought to them as well, and make them feel they are not alone.
QWhat was the purpose of beginning this project? When did it begin?
Actually I got some experience being an actor, producer and an artist for the past several years. I studied the behaviour of our citizens and it had a vast difference from the western world. I observed that in our country, in time to come, maybe, in another 10-15 years, the majority of elders, especially parents, will be overlooked by their own children. Mainly for a few reasons.
One is, Sri Lanka maybe the only country in the world where children attend tuition classes from kindergarten. Thus, they undergo a lot of pressure from childhood. We never had that experience and got ourselves involved in many activities. This has happened because there’s no proper attention given towards children’s education. They are addicted to screen culture. e.g. T.V, Internet, smart phones and facebook. They have no time for their siblings and parents which is a problem.
And add to that, female employment is also increasing. In Sri Lankan Universities, almost 80 % are female students and lecturers. In time to come, we may see an employed mother coming late to give a mother’s love to the child, who stares at her. I observed in our country, except the Buddhists and Catholics, other religions are always concerned about the latter part of their life, since they know the value of bringing up children in order to take care of them when they are old. Some well to do families, where both parents are in high positions are satisfied with one child. So I’m in two minds whether they are willing to move into elders homes, or else they want to spend a luxurious life, in their early stages, without having several kids.
QSpeaking about your concept, how do you find the response, regarding your tele films?
I must tell you , that I do this tele film screening for the mental satisfaction of the elders. I observed the elders in elder’s homes need more mental satisfaction, other than basic needs like, food, shelter, etc. With a will to do this timely requirement, I do screening of these tele film shows, within the premises of these elders homes, first ever such facility took place at an elder’s homes. This I observed the elders are really satisfied. In some occasions they kneel down on the floor and worship, raise hands and bless us. I understood due mainly for two reasons from this behaviour. One thing is, they are watching films emphasising their value for the first time of their life, an opportunity till their last breath. The 1960-70 eras were the golden era of the Sri Lankan film industry. They experienced this at the theatres throughout the country after 50-60 years, some of these elders who had been ardent spectators at that time, are now in elders homes, who have highly entertaining power in their blood.
QHow do you feel about these people spending the last stages of their lives ?
After watching these films, they are willing to watch another film, which is impossible, due to limited resources. I feel they need mental satisfaction, which they are not getting enough in the latter part of their life. And I hope it will be a requirement to the elders, to concentrate by the relevant authorities especially in the government sector as well as the multi national companies, who are willing to contribute towards the nation.
QDo you think there should be some kind of a counselling service for these elders to get rid of their mental agony?
Providing counselling service is better late than never. It should be provided to this generation well before the danger. As a third world country, we always observe, when the things are becoming worse, people try to provide solutions.
QWhat do you think is the reason for so many elders homes? This is supposed to be a Buddhist country. Do you think we are losing our social values?
I have found out most of those who live in elders homes are Buddhists. We are a Buddhist country and there are temples, we hear Buddhist sermons, there are Buddhist channels, a Buddhist ministry, Sunday school systems, but parents are neglecting their own children. This needs a timely awareness programme, to make children become conscious of these things from a younger stage, focusing school levels. This focuses the young parents as well, making it a strategic awareness.
QDo you see a bondage between parents and children nowadays ?
Our country is an underdeveloped country. But we have gained almost everything, from the western world, such as technology, education, industrial development, etc. But we haven’t found the bad effects of those. But we know, the western countries when they develop, they take maximum use of youth. The parents will be rejected sometimes, but they have found the proper answer for it. But we haven’t. The bondage between the parents are becoming wider and wider. So do we have found a solution for this? Answer is no. QWe see elderly people not only in homes but begging in the streets as well. Some of their children are doing top jobs. What is your opinion? Should there be any steps taken?
My opinion is, some elderly parents begging on the roads, sometimes maybe we are not willing to be isolated, in elders homes. Because they are not used to it. Or else, they need to find money, on behalf of a third party, maybe, for survival, or else, for some kind of an organization, conducting such stuff for business purposes. I have heard, in the past, of such organizations being activated in our country, making use of those innocent people. The government can take stern action in this redard identifying these people and directing them into relevant places, such as elder’s homes or disabled homes, which could give a better identity to these people.
QWe have women’s organizations, human rights organizations, etc. But is there any organization to look into these elder’s needs?
Looking to elders needs means, not only providing them with food and lodging, or medicine or counselling. Their most important need is their loneliness. To overcome this situation at least for the moment, they also need mental satisfaction, such as screening pictures, especially suitable for them. This is a kind of mental satisfaction. Since this timely requirement is not provided so far, this particular task is undertaken by me, being put to action, since 2011. So this is the time attention by the government and certain organizations are required. So I believe the relevant authorities will extend a supportive hand to continue this.
QHave you seen any special characters in these elders homes?
Of course. I have come across very emotional situations. I observed school principals, of famous Colombo schools as well, Doctors, graduates, well known Journalists, etc. I have spoken to them and have asked them for the moment to be relaxed, for their own mental relaxation, what’s done is done, so make up your mind, and build up your mental health. We can’t advice them and we can’t teach them. So we can’t compel them to stop thinking in their way .
QSome elders say that they come on their own will. What do you think?
That’s how we think. But what they mean by coming on their own will is, they had no other alternative. Everybody likes to be with their children at their homes. But if the children are negligent, there is no other option. But they don’t blame their children. But after watching the film they always try to expose what’s in their mind. One mother told me she has 6 children.
And after her husband’s demise, no sooner than three months, the children divided the 50 acres of land she had, to 6 parts, and transferred it to their names. She had no other option than to come to this elder’s home, and throughout all these 6 years, no one had come to see her. So this is the situation. We should make children aware of how they are brought up and how parents sacrifice their whole life for their sake. Thus awareness programmes should be done, and this is the awareness programme that I’m trying to show through my documentaries.
QDo you hope to do this continuously ?
Yes. I hope to do this continuously and I hope to get the media sponsorship as well. I have asked for their support. There are past journalists of Wijeya Newspapers too, in these homes. I last conducted an awareness programme at the Mental Hospital. Another previous one I did at the National Science Foundation. I have done several awareness programmes. Upon request, I ‘m willing to do this in schools as well. That is the most important. To make children aware of their obligations.
QFinally, what is the satisfaction you get from conducting these programmes, spending your time and money ?
I’m not fed up at all. I believe there is another birth. If we do something useful for the country and the nation, we gain good benefits. I can remember something that US President John. F .Kennedy said. ‘’Don’t ask what the country has done for you; ask what you have done for the country.
Those who wish to contact Mr. Sarath Namalgama