KATHMANDU, May 3: When Sharmila Sandhyal, 9, leaves for school in the morning, she never forgets to give a hug to Dhanalaxmi Shahi, 56. Once Sharmila is back from school, no matter how exhausted or hungry she is, she cannot do without seeing the elderly lady again first.
Someone observing them would easily surmise that they must be granddaughter and grandmother. The twosome, who live at Aamaghar, an old age home that also accomodates children, have no blood kinship but each gives meaning to the other´s life.
Their emotional bond that has developed over time is, however, as strong as that of two close relatives.
“She puts oil on my hair, braids it and sometimes bathes me. She always encourages me to study hard, she sings to me and tells me stories,” Sharmila says, sitting in Dhanalaxmi´s lap.
“And why not? You´re such a sweet child. You are my granddaughter. You shall study hard and become somebody big someday, isn´t that so?” Dhanalaxmi says in response.
“Last time I fell sick, she did everything she could to help me recover. She would remind me to take my medicines, comb my hair, take me to the toilet, fill my water bottle and instruct me like a doctor to do this or that,” the little girl adds with a smile.
With changing lifestyles and loosening of family bonds, such harmony across generations is a rarity. But not at Aamaghar, which is run by Dilshova Shrestha. Here one can also see Kanchhi Tamang (70) and Nabaraj Dani (10), Sukumaya Tamang (72) and Sanju Sharma (11), Dil Kumari Shrestha (72) and Yubaraj Tamang (10) and many other pairs of old and young bonding like grandmothers and grandchildren.
Dilshova Shrestha states that the mingling of the children with the elderly gives both reason to smile and be happy. “The elderly women treat the children like their own grandchildren. They pamper the kids, and at the same time inspire them, tell them stories, and provide moral support. For their part, the children, who might never have seen their own grandparents, cling on the older folks. It is such a beautiful relationship.” says Shrestha.
Shrestha had had first brought the children, affetcted by the conflict in Humla, Jumla and Kalikot districts, to Aamaghar because she was touched by their sorry plight, and she also wanted to see what effect they would have on the older folks. Three years on, she concludes, "If you want to give happiness to old and young alike, let them be together. They quite literally need each other."
“While the young pass on their energy and liveliness to the older folk, the latter can help a lot to guide the young morally, something which even the parents of young children can hardly do. When only the old were here, I would often find them lifeless and gloomy. In the last three years, the atmosphere has changed completely due to the presence of the children,” she says.
Helpless old women have been living at Aamaghar for 17 years while the children were brought in only from 2008. Currently, Aamaghar accomodates 39 children and 37 elderly women, as well as a 90-year-old man.