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Making time for the elderly

Karachi:A professor of Physiology in Dow Medical College (DMC) for the past 32 years, Dr Nelofar Sultana believes her specialisation in the subject has enabled her to gain insight on the problems of the elderly.

She supports them through her senior citizens home – Mera Ghar Welfare Association (MGWA). “I have come to understand that most of the time, old people don’t really need medical treatment, they simply long for love and attention like a small child.”

Apart from being the founding member of MGWA, the social worker is part of nine organisations including the Anjuman-e-Khawateen-e-Pakistan (earlier known as the Pakistan Ladies Society) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Having spent four years of her life in Saudi Arabia, Sultana did not only work for the cause of women and needy children by funding their education, but also spent her time writing short stories and soon gained recognition among her friends and colleagues. She has also won an award for the best Pakistani Urdu Writer.

Apart from this, Sultana is the founder of a literary organisation, Silsila, and is also a member of the women wing of the Rotary Club and Senior Citizens Council, among others. She is also an honorary professor at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT).

When Sultana applied for her first job as a teacher in DMC, her application was rejected by the Public Service Commission (PSC) since she was under age, she recalls. “When I applied again a few years later, I was still too young and the PSC had to give a seven-month relaxation to me then,” she smiles. She regards this as her biggest achievement. Throughout her student life, Sultana was active in social work and liked helping people simply because it was “satisfying,” she says.

Sultana also contributes articles to medical journals and practices homeopathy. She refrains from using medical jargon in her articles so that even a layman can understand important health problems and its consequences. “The vocabulary used in textbooks is quite difficult, but through my articles I share what I have learnt about each disease from my experiences,” she says.

As a teacher used to imparting positive ideas about life, Sultana gradually became an optimist and sees a silver lining in every cloud. Similarly, it was when she witnessed her mother’s helpless state that she realised older people need some support and attention, so an institution where their presence would be acknowledged was the “need of the hour”.

“My mother was a patient of dementia. She remembered and recited her poetic verses well but was unable to distinguish between faces at times. This just made me feel sorry for her and other senior citizens and gave me the courage to establish a shelter home.”

Nelofar wanted to set up a place which would not merely be a “shelter” but an abode that the old people would want to own and relate to, a place that would remind them of home — hence the name Mera Ghar was chosen. “We need to realise that their intellectual capacity does not change just because they are old or ill. They deserve as much respect as anyone else.”

MGWA is located in Samanabad, Federal B Area, whose chief patron is Fatima Surriya Bajia and Prof Dr Pirzada Qasim, vice chancellor Karachi University (KU). It is run on a self-help basis. The association members also initiated the idea of awarding senior citizens for their achievement and contribution towards the society. “We have awarded two senior citizens since 2005, one of which was awarded to Begum Tazeen Faridi, president All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA).”

Sultana is so committed to the cause that she also distributes banners off and on around the city to spread awareness on the issue. The 52-year-old is energetic even at this age and is used to keeping herself busy. “When Mera Ghar is non-functional, I set up free medical camps with a team of doctors in different lower and middle-income areas of Karachi like Lyari, Orangi, Nazimabad, Gulistan-e-Johar and Karachi Press Club too.” She is responsible for introducing a senior citizens discount time.

Her husband, Athar Hashmi, is a renowned senior journalist who has supported her throughout and has never interfered in her work. Nor have her three sons. “The four men in my house are extremely helpful when it comes to managing the household chores that I have never felt the need of a daughter,” she contentedly adds. Although Sultana appears somewhat frazzled due to her hectic schedule, she is nevertheless proud of the work she is doing.

Source: The News