Residences for the Senior Citizen in Sri Lanka


Remember I wrote last Sunday about a friend of mine living very happily and safe in London in a flat within a protected community managed by the Little Sisters of the Poor? I was very interested in her description of her new home and environment. When she said she intended calling at the Home for the Elderly run by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Colombo, I got more interested hence my visiting this community.

St Mary’s Home for the Elderly

Right here in Colombo is a very well maintained spanking new home for the elderly managed by the Order of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor, is an international Institute, which was founded in 1839 by a French woman called Jeanne Jugan. Her creed was: "You will find Christ in prayer, in community, and in the poor" and "Never forget the poor are our Lord."

For so it was that – faithful to the inspiration of God – she had understood her role to substituting herself for the aged poor in order to beg and "so associate to her work those lay people desirous of aiding their brothers and sisters by their work and their generosity." Today the Little Sisters continue to walk the way of Jeanne Jugan. They welcome the elderly poor regardless of their race and religion.

In 1888 the Little Sisters founded their home in Sri Lanka, at Maradana. Since then they have been caring for thousands of elderly poor with the help of their friends and benefactors. The home needed reconstruction. In 2002 they undertook this immense work and finished it in 2004 incorporating all modern facilities. Their Superiors in Hong Kong paid for the new construction. They were able to do so by selling one of their old homes in Hong Kong. The Little Sisters have no steady income; they receive a very small amount from the government to help run the Home. They are dependent on public charity and alms they receive at the Home. They even go from house to house on daily collection. The Home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor at 204, T B Jaya Mavata (formerly Darley Road) just next to St Joseph’s College, offers love and care. They really do this. Their Mission is "to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until death." Their Vision is "to contribute to the Culture of Life by nurturing communities where each person is valued, the solidarity of the human family and the wisdom of age are celebrated, and the compassionate love of Christ is shared with all."

The first pleasant surprise as you enter the gate and drive up to the spanking new building is the spaciousness of the entire site. You cannot imagine there is so much space right in the centre of Colombo. There are well maintained gardens all around the vast building and views of the Beira Lake from strategically sited balconies. The building itself is three storeyed with rooms spreading out in two wings. The Mother Superior, Sister Rose, met us and was kind enough to have a Sister escort us around.

The ground floor has a superbly appointed kitchen and well arranged dining area. The laundry hall is impressive. We were told that every inmate has to hand over or keep aside for collecting each day’s clothes which are laundered and ironed and collected or handed over the next day. Also on the ground floor is a recreation area, atrium, physiotherapy and doctor’s consultation room, a dental clinic and auditorium in addition to rooms for administrative staff. The first and the second floor have rooms shared by two inmates or a few by married couples. The third floor is for the nuns. On the first floor is a dining area for those who are wheel-chaired or walk with aid. At present there are 98 inmates plus 18 nuns and many helpers.

What struck us was the spruce cleanliness of the place and how contented the inmates seemed to be. The sick are cared for conscientiously.

Other homes

Dr Spittel left his house at Sri Saranakara Road Dehiwala to be a home for the elderly. It is St Nicholas’ Home, managed by the Dutch Burgher Union for the elderly of that community. Fair enough. I had a school mate living in the Home who was ill with cancer. It was so heartening to see how well she was cared for.

Another home run by the Methodist Church is on Havelock Road where the inmates are all of a certain class – educated and genteel. They pay a reasonable amount for board and lodging. Some go out occasionally for a meal at a restaurant. A constant visitor who plays the piano weekly for them said that a couple of the residents gleefully announced to her "this month is full of donations" meaning meals provided which ensure change from the usual.

Recently a posher retirement home was set up again close to Havelock Road where two large houses were redesigned and refurbished giving fine rooms to those who wish to stay here, spending Rs 85,000/= monthly. It’s more hotel living since meals are selected from menus and laundry and every facility provided. Another welcome feature is that visiting relatives, especially from abroad, could hire a room and live close to the dear one they had arrived to see, paying for board and lodging. Visitors can be invited by inmates to have a meal at the Home thus facilitating fellowship, so needed when one is old and restricted in movement.

Another such is a home which a person holding top positions in the private sector and government built as a retirement gift for his wife, intending to move to the rustic location in Pelawatte. Very unfortunately the dream was only a dream since one spouse died prematurely. The place was converted to a fine Home for the retired where both men and women, of all religions and nationalities, live in dignity and sufficient comfort.

Homes run by Buddhist organizations, more so women’s organizations, are numerous. The two I know cater to three classes of residents: well paying persons, those who pay a very nominal amount and those who are free. One of these homes charges a deposit of Rs 125,000 with 25,000 being refundable. Room rent has had to be increased to Rs 17,500 a month; rooms being quite spacious with attached toilets and balcony space. Some time ago if a person fell ill she had to leave the Home. Not now since nurse aides are allowed to live-in and a hospice, opened a couple of years ago, cares for the incapacitated.

I have not given the names of the Homes mentioned above as I got permission from only the Mother Superior of St Mary’s Home for the Elderly to write about it.

We have plenty of Homes in Sri Lanka, concentrated in Colombo, which fact is excellent since more and more such homes for the elderly are needed. To live in your own flat in a protected area may also soon be a reality. People live longer and significantly many senior citizens of now prefer to be independent and live by themselves, either as a pair or if widowed, singly. They do not wish to burden further already burdened sons and daughters.

Post Script – Politicians of long ago

held prisoners

In last Sunday’s Island a person signing himself as TD ticked Nan off for writing that Colvin R de Silva, Philip Gunawardhena and William Silva – LSSPers - were inmates of Bogambara Prison. TD says he saw them playing a team game in a garden in another building in Kandy town, away from the Bogambara Prison. Nan got her info from Internet, not from her head or second or third hand from a person chatted to. Certainly, Internet can be inaccurate. Consider however the fact that the place seen by TD could very well have been a part of Bogambara Prison or the political prisoners seen playing a team game could have been taken to the playing ground from the Bogambara Prison and returned to their cells within, for the night.

If the writer who pointed out the error, which really need not be considered an error due to the reasons given above, is Tissa Devendra (many clues point to the accuracy of this identification), Nan points out an error he made as recorded in his latest book ‘A Fiery Finale’ which she skimmed. He writes that Dr S A Wickremasinghe was incarcerated at Bogambara Prison as "an enemy agent". Both these the politician’s daughter, Suriya Wickremasinghe, refutes (as quoted in Devendra’s book) in a letter she wrote that he was held at Welikada Prison, not Bogambara.


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