Our bus stopped in front of an official-looking building with the sign “Pejabat” prominently displayed on the door. Our teacher Cik Siti got down first. We followed.
We were at the Old Folks’ Home as part of our Social Welfare Club’s activities. Cik Siti had said that it was good for us to visit the Home to get an idea of how some of the less fortunate senior citizens of our society lived. She said that most of the younger generation are too pampered and we did not know what hardship and poverty were. So the visit was supposed to be an eye-opener for the thirty or so students from our class.
Indeed it was an eye-opener. The moment I alighted from the bus I saw a group of pathetic-looking old people staring at us from an old building about twenty metres from the bus. The effect the sight on me and the others was immediate.
Normally we were like a bunch of chattering hyperactive monkeys who did not know what silence was, We were always too busy exercising our mouths or other parts of our anatomy. But that morning in the compound of the Old Folks’ Home we were all very quiet, and I understood why.
For the first time in my life, I came face to face with old neglected people. They were no different from my grandfather or grandmother from their physical appearance, but the look on their faces told a very different story.
Most of them were in no position to be physically active. So they just remained as they were when Cik Siti led us into the main building that housed the inmates. Inside the building we saw the sorry state of the residents, First of all, the whole place was untidy and a stench pervaded the air. Some old men were lying in bed, some were sitting and some were simply standing stock-still. When we entered most of them turned and stared at us, mouths agape. The rest probably were not even aware of our presence.
Cik Siti talked to a few of them. Some of them made attempts to reply, but most just stared without saying anything. The ravages of age and senility had taken their toll on many of them. They simply did not have the strength nor the interest to make conversation.
We visited the handicraft section where the more able inmates earned some pocket money by making bamboo baskets and other items. These inmates were a bit easier to talk to.
Those who were able to answer invariably told us of how they ended up in the Home in the twilight of their lives. The common cause was that nobody wanted them. Some of them had no relatives. Some cannot remember who their relatives were and some were left at the home by their very own sons who did not want to look after them! We were all taken aback by such callousness but the fact was there for us to see.
We spent about two hours at the Home. I came to realise that an old person was very much at the mercy of the young. If the old person was fortunate enough, the younger ones might take care of him. Otherwise, he was likely to end up in an Old Folks’ Home or maybe somewhere worse.
We left the Home in a sombre mood after promising to return the next weekend to tidy up the place a bit. Cik Siti was right. We were all very pampered and did not know what hardship and poverty were. Anyway, we learned something that day and the following week we did return to tidy up and make the home a better place to live in for the old people there. It was the least we could do.