The government initiative to develop eight 'Shanti Nibas' (peace abode) for elderly people under a modest project costing Tk 800 million is highly appreciated. What is novel about the project is that eight such care homes will be integrated with eight child homes ---one in each division --- on the same precinct. Bangladesh society is yet to reconcile with the idea of consigning elderly people to homes established especially for them. But the reality is that for some ---no matter if they belong to affluent or poor segment ---there is no alternative to such an arrangement. Developing old-age homes is a Western concept ---one that emphasises the especial need for care for senior citizens who have few to look after in their families. But one thing is unmistakeable ---families of the elderly or themselves have the money or savings to afford the expenses at such facilities. Mostly these care homes are run by charitable or private organisations. In this country, the first such care home named ProbinNibas was established as early as 1960.
Apart from a handful of philanthropic people, the majority of homes for the elderly are commercially run. Those who manage shelters for the homeless and the most vulnerable are usually businessmen who spend money from their own coffers. Notwithstanding some limitations, these shelters for the homeless serve society well. But unfortunately, there are not many such facilities and therefore the government initiative to combine child care centres and old-age homes together adds a new dimension to the care for both the young and the old. Child correction centres have earned quite an infamy because of the rough and tough management system. The death of three boys allegedly from torture at Jashore child correction centre in August last makes a strong case for review of the management system in such correction centres.
Now the objective of developing care centres for both children and the elderly side by side on the same premise is to create an ambience of family. Although the most neglected or abandoned elderly people will be sheltered at the 25-bed facilities initially, the daily interaction between the two groups is supposed to develop an empathy and bond between them. Children will get something they miss as the elderly share with them their experiences and knowledge. In the same way, the senior citizens too will have the young souls to shower their love and blessings on.
Clearly, the concept of combining the two has enormous prospect. During the pandemic, a few cases of extreme cruelty ---in which sons or daughters abandoned their parents in the woods or on the street ---were reported. The police or upazilanirbahi officers took the role of rescuers. Hats off to the officer-in-charge of Agailjhara who took the responsibility of taking care of two such abandoned women for life! But not all police officers are as generous as he is, nor can such isolated attempts address the growing problem of vulnerability for the elderly. So this government arrangement should be expanded to a level where no one will remain without a shelter, unfed and uncared. It can be considered a first step towards creating a most caring society.