Annalie Gracias visits a 'nursery' of sorts to see how the aged live happily in the twilight years and finds out about the 'Handmaids' who look after them
It is around 4.30 pm as I open the gate of Dr Rafael Pereira Asilo. Elderly women are sitting on benches in the garden and talking amongst themselves. Their eyes turn towards me as they hear the sound of the gate being opened and their faces crinkle into a smile when they spot that a visitor has arrived.
These women reside at this old age home in Acsona, Benaulim under the loving care of four sisters belonging to the congregation of the Handmaids of Christ. Most of the women either have no family to look after them, are spinsters or have been abandoned by their children.
“More than food, they require care and affection. I take care of them with my own hands; cut their nails, trim their hair and give them a hug,” says Sr. Agnela Fernandes, Superior.
The house originally belonged to Dr. Rafael Pereira. After his death, his wife Dona Helena donated the home along with some other properties with an intent to serve the elderly people in Benaulim along with orphaned children. The old women at the home were initially looked after by the Holy Family Sisters before the congregation of the Handmaids of Christ took over in 1980.
Today, the home along with the other properties are managed by a five member committee which looks after the ‘Legado De D. Helena Cunha e Pereira’ (Trust) under the direction of the Archbishop.
The Committee also looks after the ‘Dona Helena Holiday Home’ which is situated on another donated property. The income earned from the holiday home is used to support the Dr. Rafael Pereira Asilo. It is a fitting tribute to the couple who started this legacy that the establishments are named after each of them.
Sr. Agnela tells me that the women enjoy eating ice-creams, fruits and even occasionally bhel-puri from the vendors on the street. Their daily requirements are also well looked after. They have time for recreation, prayer as well as timely meals. A doctor also visits regularly to check up on them.
From the general atmosphere of the home it is visible that the sisters make sure that each of the 23 women residing there is given love and attention. The women are also taken for various outing such as picnics, lunches as well as to see Tiatrs. Birthdays are celebrated with the cutting of cake(s). NGOs, youth groups and church groups visit the women and conduct programs. People also celebrate their functions such as birthdays and anniversaries by donating food to the home.
It is a free home and they rely on people for funds, provisions and food. Joaquim D’Silva, Attorney of the Trust says, “Only recently, when children come and ask admission for their parents, the Committee asks them to give a share of their assets. This is not to demand money, but to give their children a pinch to understand the value of their parents.”
The home is not a huge one. But the love of the sisters towards the women is definitely immense as evident from the familial feeling that radiates from the home. However, the fond way in which these women reminisce about their family and children hits home the ceaseless love of parents towards their children.
Antonia Rodrigues, an 85 year old woman residing at the home says, “I miss my grandchildren very much. My son is abroad so he takes me home when he comes to Goa for vacation. But this is like my home. I’m very happy to stay here.”
The sisters belong to the congregation of the Handmaids of Christ which was founded by Msgr. Herculano Rodrigues from Benaulim. The charism of the congregation is to reach out to the poor and marginalized especially children and women in distress.
The sisters take care of the elderly women just like a mother looks after her children. Sr. Agnela adds, “I try my best to make it a home away from their home.”