The Senior Station

Aug 24 2023.

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In the heart of Sri Lanka, a remarkable initiative known as The Senior Station was born five years ago. The inception of this unique haven for seniors traces back to the shared experiences of seven compassionate individuals who were caregivers to their ageing parents, navigating a world where traditional support systems were evolving. The Senior Station emerged as a sanctuary, offering seniors the opportunity to forge new friendships, share laughter, and engage in activities thoughtfully designed to stimulate their minds, bodies, and souls.

From physical exercises to mental challenges and joyful sing-alongs, this program fosters social interaction and lifelong learning. Celebrating not only 100 physical sessions but also 63 online sessions during the pandemic, The Senior Station stands as a testament to the power of community and caring. We delve into the story behind this inspiring initiative, its mission to enhance the lives of seniors, and the heartwarming moments that have defined its journey.

How did the idea of creating The Senior Station come about? What inspired this initiative?
The Senior Station was started five years ago by seven individuals who shared the common experience of looking after ageing parents with very few resources available. Our loved ones were faced with the challenge of changing social structures that were moving towards nuclear families, new technologies and a different way of doing things. We saw our loved ones feeling quite lost with the fast pace of life around them, and the lack of adequate support systems. One of us had a parent who had joined a similar program in India which had a huge impact and we thought it would be a good idea to create something similar in Sri Lanka that was customized to our cultural norms.

The Senior Station started as a space dedicated to seniors where they could find new friends, share some laughs and engage in activities that were created specifically for them. The idea was to provide a program that would stimulate the mind, body and soul.

Typically, our program starts with physical exercises, we then move on to mental exercises where we solve puzzles and quizzes. The last part of the program is a mixed bag including sing-alongs, art projects, Bingo, talks by visiting experts on various subjects and more. Here we focus on social interaction and learning. Each session has a different program, and the members come away with a new experience. 

We are very proud to have completed 100 physical sessions. This does not include the 63 online sessions we hosted during the pandemic.


How did you reach out to seniors and inform them about this space? What strategies did you use to attract them to participate?
Our main source of communication is social media – we have a Facebook page which highlights our programs, and where we receive enquiries. We also have a What’s App group where we communicate upcoming events. Coverage from the media has also helped spread the word. However, many of our new members joined because of the positive feedback from existing members. We have kept the joining process very easy. We have sessions every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Seniors can register themselves at any session and join the program immediately. More often than not, new members return because they feel very welcomed here and enjoy our activities.

What kind of activities and programmes do you offer in the senior space to encourage bonding and interaction among the seniors?
At the Senior Station, we’ve created an atmosphere of kinship and camaraderie. Most of our activities are done in groups and we encourage members to reach out to each other to make it more inclusive. We encourage even the shy members to come forward at their own pace. Over time we’ve seen some very special bonds form, and our members have provided wonderful support to each other even outside of The Senior Station. 

Apart from the regular programs we have also organized special events. Like every festival is celebrated – Avurudu, Christmas, Diwali and Eid. We organize special treats during these festivals, share details of the customs and traditions and make it a jolly celebration. In the past, we’ve visited homes for destitute elderly where we have given donations and conducted sing-a-longs for them. These activities have brought everyone closer. One much looked forward to program is called travel-in-your-chair where we take the members on the virtual tour of a country. We play the traditional music from that country and sometimes we have had donations of food and treats by embassies or expats from those places. That’s something everyone looks forward to.

Can you share any heartwarming or memorable moments that have occurred in the senior space since its inception?
There have been so many it would be hard to settle on the most endearing. There have been moments when some members have hit a personal difficult moment and we’ve seen others rally around them. They share prayers and kind words to bolster each other’s feelings. Often, we see a member repeat something that is being said to another because he or she is hard of hearing, or they read out questions because someone can’t see. These moments touch our hearts. After all, reaching out to each other is the underlying objective of The Senior Station. For us, the Trustees, when our seniors approach us after each session and tell us how much it means to them that they are being cared for – that is really special to us.

Were there any challenges you faced when initially setting up?
It has been a huge learning curve for us all along – We have had to understand what our seniors appreciate and what they don’t. Activities cannot be so hard that members lose interest, and yet they cannot be too simple. Our male members engage with the program differently from the female members and we have to satisfy both. Our biggest challenge was through the pandemic years. We had to move our program online and that was not easy. Yet, our members appreciated the effort to keep The Senior Station going, and we are overwhelmed by how enthusiastically they have come back to the physical sessions.

Have there been any obstacles in terms of participation, resources, or community support? How did the organization address these challenges?
We are a not-for-profit organization. The Senior Station operates on the per session charge to our members and donations from well-wishers. These cover our operational costs. We are really lucky to host our sessions at the Ladies College Institute of Professional Studies, who have gone out of their way to make our members feel comfortable. We’d like to give a hearty thanks to sponsors for some of our events namely Paan Paan and Cake Factory who provide us with treats on special occasions such as our hundredth session celebration. And every now and then, we get contributions that help us add something extra to our activities.

Starting up in the midst of an economic crisis has been particularly hard as our costs have increased significantly. We have, however, made it a point not to increase the contribution from the members. This means that we’ve had to trim some of the frills, but the core of our program remains the same, and we’ve ensured that each time members go away with a big smile on their faces.

What positive changes or impacts have you observed among the seniors who participate in the space? Can you provide any anecdotes or examples? How has this initiative contributed to the well-being and quality of life of the senior participants?
The feedback we receive has been incredibly encouraging and it is what keeps us going. Members tell us how Tuesday mornings have become the highlight of their week. They look forward to dressing up and meeting new friends. We have had family members who tell us how their loved ones are more confident and energized.  One member’s daughter told us how her mother came out of a prolonged depression, and another’s father started talking and engaging more. 

In the words of one of our earliest members – ‘My family loves me dearly but they want me to join them in the things they like. I tell them that’s the new syllabus. I don’t get it. At The Senior Station, everything is in the old syllabus. I understand it.”

What are your future plans for the senior space? Are there any new activities, expansions, or enhancements you have in mind?

We have just recently started up after the pandemic and we need to streamline the process a bit to meet with our expanding membership base. Also, we have plans to create support systems for caregivers as well who often are overwhelmed by the needs of their loved ones. 

How does the organization plan to ensure the sustainability of the senior space in the long term?
Within the current model, we are assured that The Senior Station can continue to provide our Tuesday morning program, hopefully well into the future. However, we are mindful that as our numbers grow we will have to expand our resource base – both in terms of funding and volunteers who would like to help. We welcome contributions in terms of both.

What do participants enjoy most about the senior space? Are there any particular activities or aspects that stand out to them?
We are always on the lookout for individuals or organizations that would like to be a part of The Seniors Station in a way that will add value to our program. These could be people who have expertise in a field that may be of interest to the seniors and would like to share their stories and knowledge  – theatre, arts, history, wildlife, well-being etc. or it could be organizations who would like to sponsor something that will make our sessions more enjoyable, for example, the Basement Playback Theatre group once did a performance at The Senior Station which was incredibly enjoyable for everyone. The opportunities to give back to our seniors are endless – We are who we are because of our seniors. It’s time to give back!  

Follow them on Facebook to learn more and for updates: The Senior Station E mail: [email protected]

Pics Nisal Baduge


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rihaab Mowlana

Rihaab Mowlana is a journalist specializing in feature writing. With a commitment to authenticity and a genuine love for her craft, she brings stories to life by delving deep into captivating subjects and offering unique perspectives. Beyond journalism, Rihaab is a content creator, entrepreneur, and educator. Stay connected with Rihaab on Twitter & Instagram: @rihaabmowlana

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