The number of elderly people (60 years and over) in India is about 138 million (male: 67 million and female: 71 million) comprising approx. 10% of the total population. This is a significant number that is only expected to increase in the future. With such a population base over the age of 60, the problem has several dimensions. Government and society have a responsibility for the well-being of seniors in general and particularly those who are physically and cognitively incapacitated. At the same time, older people who are relatively well off in terms of health and mental capacity have an equal responsibility to society. Our interaction with older people who are otherwise physically fully fit/mentally agile reveals that very few of them are not interested in pursuing even a semi-active life to do something that is important to society. They believe they have done enough, and now is the time to relax and enjoy. Seniors between the ages of 60 and 75 are best placed in terms of accumulated knowledge and skills to contribute to the growth of society. Although this type of contribution sometimes does not directly contribute to the GDP, it will contribute to the “social development” of the nation which is necessary of the hour for a country like India which has miles to go in terms of education and other parameters of social development. In fact, elders should take this role seriously so that they are not seen as mere burdens but respected as a useful resource actively engaged in the development of society. A true and prosperous India will only emerge when senior citizens are actively part of its growth story.
Ways seniors can contribute:
Seniors can contribute to the development of the country in several ways. Some of them may be totally pro bono or some may be partially compensated in financial terms. Some of these roles are:
1. Act positively as a FAMILY MENTOR by guiding the younger generation in their own family. It involves spending time with the next generation or the next, perhaps on the weekends and sharing life experiences. In our childhood, we used to listen to good classic stories from our grandparents that carried deep morals. These helped us build our character. These type of storytelling mentoring exercises have a lasting impact. Other types of mentoring might be in an active channel of communication with family members all the time and show willingness to offer advice whenever asked. Elders as family mentors can play an important role in transforming family productivity. And a productive family is a nation’s main source of growth.
2. Regularly spend time with young needy children as a SOCIAL GUIDE. This has two dimensions: teaching as well as the overall growth of the child. The very presence and sharing of wisdom by an older person can have a wonderful impact on a child’s overall well-being. In India, there is often a lag. There are thousands of NGOs working for the development of poor and needy children in disadvantaged neighborhoods. There are older people who are interested in working as volunteers. What is needed is a way to bring them together. All of us who can bring the two sides together should try to do so. There are many schools in India where we have children who would love to hear stories about science, history, civics, the military or Indian heroes. And who can be a better storyteller than an elder. These fun part-time teaching sessions (no actual teaching) are extremely important for the holistic development of students. Similarly, elders can plan some auxiliary activities like planting, bird watching, etc. for children in association with the school.
3. Undertake SOCIAL ACTIVITIES for philanthropic/beneficial purposes. It could be a few hours a week/month. In addition to keeping you busy, these acts will also contribute to a social/charitable purpose which is itself a societal contribution. I have a friend from college days who takes care of social activities in a temple in Ahmedabad. I have another colleague from MRLF who was actively working with an NGO in Mumbai to undertake social surveys. These activities give them great satisfaction. There are many others who are involved in such important activities that indirectly contribute to nation building.
4. Finally, every senior should make time to help other seniors in need. “SENIORS FOR SENIORS” is an important concept. If we seniors cannot help other seniors, why should others? So we should try to do our part in every possible way. Seniors in need seek three (3) main types of support: financial, emotional and physical. As elders, we should visit needy elders in our own residential societies, communities, old people’s clubs, nursing homes and try to be in the company of people who need help. We may not all be trained caregivers; but the very empathy and the fact that we are at the service of seniors who need help testifies to the receptivity of a society to the care of seniors and this in itself leads to social growth.
Go forward :
Elders are endowed with rich knowledge and skills accumulated during their life experience. The cumulative quantum of said knowledge and skills is of immense value to society. And it is the duty of the elders to give the same as much as possible to the next generation. Knowledge is an asset that does not run out if you give it away. In a country like India which is so divided in terms of opportunity and access, elders are a resource that can be freely made available to fill the void. Seniors must therefore realize that they have many ways to contribute to the societal development of the nation. The feeling must come to them that they are not liabilities but one of the most important assets of the country. They must therefore contribute to the development of the nation until their last breath.
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