Meet Sailesh Mishra, the man who is transforming the world of senior citizens, one step at a time…He won the Karamveer National Award in 2008 given by iCONGO for his dedicated work for the Elderly and has also been nominated and selected twice by UN INIA (UN Institute of Ageing) Malta, for a course on Social Gerontology in Feb ’09 & for MIPAA Policy Implementation in Oct’10.
In 2012, he was Invited by UN to participate in Third Session of the prestigious ‘Open-ended Working Group on Ageing’ (OEWG) for the purpose of strengthening the protection of the human rights of older persons, by considering the existing international framework of the human rights of older persons and identifying possible gaps and how best to address them, including by considering, as appropriate, the feasibility of further instruments and measures.
Here is what he has to say…
Saileshji, how did you begin your journey associating with senior citizens?
I always wanted to do something different in life … to serve people, to help someone, like ‘social work’. I did not understand the meaning at that time, though. My grandfather was a Freedom Fighter of Maharashtra and our family was active in local social and political activity, I had that in my blood, and my mother used to always tell me “Don’t look at ‘Joint Family Business’. You should make your way, stand on your own feet, make your identity” She deep rooted this phrase inside my soul ‘Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you’. Sales were not my forte. Target after target after target…. Life seemed boring and routine… I used to keep my boss happy, my juniors happy, my dealers happy… but in the end I was unhappy of whatever I was doing…So after reaching my peak in 2004/2005, and head as ‘Marketing Manager’ I used to get lot of time after 2 pm and I thought “Let’s use this time to do constructive social work”
A programme on senior citizens, telecast sometime in 2004 on Sahyadri TV, the government-run channel in Marathi, made me sit up. The next morning I found myself knocking at the door of Dignity Foundation, one of the NGOs that had participated in the programme. I offered to be a volunteer, but received a job offer as I was found brimming with ideas.
Soon enough, an opportunity presented itself. The post of Vice President of the Neral Township for senior citizens, the dream project of Dignity Foundation, fell vacant and I opted to take responsibility, as I had previous experience of working with architects and engineers.
I was appointed chief of the project still under construction and was required to visit it twice a week, which took my total daily commute to 180 km. I’d often work for over 16 hours a day, multi-tasking with architects, planners, construction workers, local politicians and residents, government officials, lawyers, NGOs and the police, happy to be able to contribute, enjoying every moment of my demanding schedule.
But I was hardly home and my family life was in a shambles. As the work at the township picked up the pace, I moved lock, stock and barrel to the site, going home only once a month.
What were your experiences working with dementia-stricken elders like?
I got the shock of my life when I found an 86-year-old lady demanding to go to school. “What school?” I laughed and dismissed the demand but she was persistent. After some time I began to take her every day to a make-believe school within the township, and would bring her back, a satisfied “schoolgirl”. The strangeness of the demand and the simplicity of the solution left a niggling question mark in my mind.
Another lady, frail and docile, would make me sing the same song every night, and would sleep only after she had heard it. Every encounter with a resident taught me, that beyond administrative efficiency and technological advancement, it was essential to be a human being. One morning a horrified attendant came running to me holding the shower head that this lady had uprooted from the bathroom. This was my first brush with the destructive power of dementia. And then I remembered the old man in one of the day care centers: he wore diapers, danced and sang all day, played on the mouth organ and kept kissing everybody in sight. This man, and many others were kept confined behind a collapsible grill, in jail-like conditions. I had found this cruel and irrational, but I could find no explanation. “How can we do such an irrational and cruel thing to our elders, I wondered,” “I was intrigued and disturbed, but clueless.”
What is Silver Innings all about?
Silver Innings is a Social Enterprise started in April 2008 to work with Senior Citizens, towards creating an Elder Friendly World where Ageing becomes a Positive and Rewarding Experience. www.silverinnings.com is a one stop destination for information for the elderly and their family members. We are pioneers in using Social Media since 2008 for Ageing Domain in the Asia-Pacific Region.
- To advocate and create awareness of elderly rights and issues at micro and macro level.
- To address basic needs of the elderly (aged 50 yrs +) and their family members.
- To provide and create innovative programmes and services for the elderly that enable them to reintegrate back into society with dignity.
- To promote research and development on issues related to elderly.
- To develop and implement training of professionals and para-professionals in Gerontology, Geriatrics and Geriatric Care Management
What have been the challenges you faced, as you tried to set up Silver Innings?
The biggest challenged I faced was to make people understand why we work with Senior Citizens and to tackle myths of Ageing. People used to ask us “Why Seniors? do they have issues? They are 60 plus, happy, lived their life….” The other challenge was to make people understand that we are NOT an old age home. I don’t know why, but any work I do with elders – people end up asking “where is your old age home??”
You have won a “Karamveer Award” for your dedicated service to elders in India. What does that award mean to you?
The ‘Karmaver Award‘is a prestigious award in the social arena, given by iCONGO and UN Volunteer. It came as surprised and was very early, in 2009 – just one year into our Movement called ‘Silver Innings’… It gave us that credibility that every start-up requires and also as an endorsement that our ‘WORK WITH SENIOR CITIZENS’ is accepted and recognized. It was not an Award for me, it was an award for the ‘Ageing sector’…. recognition by the ‘civil society’. It helped made our outreach widen and inspired us to do more.
What is your dream for Silver Innings and elders in India?
That’s a good question! My dream is to see SILVER INNINGS as a Movement and not an organization…. I dream of India being global leader in the Holistic sphere of the globe … a network beyond borders… between technology, innovations and a socio-psychological approach. I dream of a society where all generations are empowered … they are independent to choose and decide their careers and future. I foresee a growth in start-ups and social entrepreneurs for today’s youth and tomorrow seniors. I will be most happy if we all join hands for our mission of ‘Elder Friendly World’ where Ageing becomes a Positive and Rewarding Experience’
Since a major part of your work is in dealing with elders with dementia, what would you say or suggest to people who have elders with dementia, living with them?
Don’t neglect forgetfulness as part of the ‘Ageing’ process. Memory loss ‘might’ be dementia. Catch them young. If your family member, relative, friend, neighbour are diagnosed or have Dementia / Alzheimer’s, don’t panic or get scared. Nowadays, it’s as normal to have dementia as you get Diabetes and BP. It’s a new change in lifestyle which is responsible for this health condition. Keep watch on them. DON’T LEAVE THEM ALONE or they might go missing, You can install a tracking device, to track them if lost.
Take them to a Psychiatrist or Neurologist or an Organization working with Dementia. Just don’t neglect them!
- Understand the diseases , ACCEPT IT
- Know the fact – some dementia related issues are TREATABLE (in early stages) but it can’t be completely cured
- It can happen to any one
- Remember … the person is not mad, it is a brain disease
- The person is not doing things purposely. It’s just that he / she does not have control
- It’s about FULL TIME care
4 Important things NOT TO DO:
Never Say ‘No’
Never Stop them abruptly while speaking
Never Raise your voice
JUST UNDERSTAND THEM … Try to solve it … Assure them … Show Love and divert their attention
Don’t be Ashamed to take professional help – like hiring a maid, registering with a Dementia Day care centre, taking the help of 24 x 7 Assisted Living Elder Care home
Sailesh Mishra’s vision for an elder-friendly world has garnered support from individuals and organisations across society. A belief that these silver-haired, golden-hearted people deserve to enjoy their “second childhood” with dignity, respect and care has driven him and his team of committed souls to reach out to seniors in as many ways as possible.