By Nyunt Win
A group of senior citizens warm themselves around a stove at the Bethel Home for the Elderly in the town of Hakha, which sits at an altitude of 6100 feet above sea level and serves as the capital of hilly Chin State in western Myanmar.
The home, which is located in the compound of Bethel Church, was opened in 2001 and is the only facility in Chin State dedicated to the care and comfort of the elderly.
The nine residents have come from different distances to stay at the home but they are all facing the same challenge of adjusting to dependent living as they age.
“I am happy here. My home village no longer pops into my mind,” said Daw Chan Eng, who is in her 60s and who grew up in the village of Chun Cung about 24 kilometres (15 miles) from Hakha.
Daw Chan Eng used to be employed as a security guard at a cattle farm in Chun Cung but she was forced to stop working after she suffered severe burns from boiling water from a cooking pot, which crippled her limbs.
When the staff at the Bethel Home for the Elderly heard about her worsening condition, they invited her to become a resident.
“Here I lay in bed most of the time since I can’t walk well. And I rarely talk to others because I’m deaf,” Daw Chan Eng said with a breaking voice.
Another resident, 72-year-old U Zar Mung, is the retired headmaster of a primary school in Hakha. His marriage broken, this father of eight children had no one to look after him after he retired.
He said his eldest son had to resign from his job working for local authorities due to a problem with alcoholism, leaving the aging U Zar Mung to earn his living by working at road construction sites for daily wages.
“I feel sorry for my life but I don’t blame my children – they cannot care for me because they are jobless as well,” he said.
U Zar Mung said he was brought to the home with help from some of his neighbours. He now spends his days saying prayers and growing vegetables.
“To be healthy is more important for me now,” he said. “It’s very good that this home has been established. I’m determined to live here for the rest of my life.”
Salai Bawi Ferling, a member of the home’s supervisory committee, said the founding of the institution was the brainchild of Bethel Church’s late pastor, Reverend Sang Awi.
“The pastor organised the local people to establish an old people’s home when he saw needy elderly people working for daily wages on road construction sites,” Salai Bawi Ferling said. “When these people became sick, they had to rely on the local community – a situation that was burdensome for the host in the long run.”
The Bethel Home for the Elderly, which started with 10 residents, was originally located on property rented from a local family in Hakha. After about 18 months the family decided to sell the property, forcing the home to relocate to a small house on the grounds of Bethel Church.
“The home accepts any dependent elderly person over the age of 60 years regardless of race or religion,” Salai Bawi Ferling said, adding that they also required recom-mendations from local authorities and relatives, if any.
Since it opened seven years ago the home has cared for 13 people but four of them have died.
The Department of Social Welfare under the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement helps support the home with donations of Western and traditional medicines, and also gives K40,000 every year on World Elderly Day.
He added that funding for the home was extremely limited.
“Food for the residents costs about K50,000 a month, with rice being supplied by the local community and authorities,” he said.
The Myanmar Times: 9 July 2007, Volume 19, No. 374