Saturday, December 1.  Whom do I see through the kitchen door window, while I am about to enter my parents’ home? My 95-year-old dad, washing dishes! I was torn between two impulses: one, admiration, as my dad had come back home just two days before, after two months of hospitalization for a post-traumatic subdural hematoma! And the other, anxiety and maybe a bout of anger, as my dad’s family and medical network had told him to only walk around with a helping hand nearby. 

Aware of my options, I choose to cultivate my admiration and decided to congratulate my father. Sitting next to him, I resisted the urge to help him and let him continue his chore. I decided to be present, “doing nothing” for probably more than one hour. Meanwhile, we had one of the most marvelous chats I ever had with him. Then came our walks in the house, my father learning how to use a Rollator. Again, I resisted the urge to help. I stood by, ready to intervene if needed. The day ended with joy, as father and son had spent a most wonderful time together.

Driving back home I connected my day’s experience with the visit I had made in Singapore on November 8th to Wellness Kampung@115 Chong Pang, in Singapore. Yishun Health had opened the center in March 2016 to try to stem the increasing number of Non Communicable Diseases it was observing.  The center now serves more than 2,000 older persons. A group welcomed us, participants in the Good Conversation event, as if the center was an extension of their living room. After 10 minutes we were already exercising together using a YouTube video, a favorite of the community members. We then were taken to visit the lush vegetable garden, admired the beautiful watercolors and Chinese calligraphy made by community members. The visit reminded me of my childhood when we visited distant cousins we had not seen for some time.

We then sat in a circle and continued the conversations we had started in smaller groups. Our hosts’ greatest concern? That the center for some reasons would be closed. Some people come every day! To reach out to those isolated people who don’t feel like joining the center, the weekly soup distribution is a great occasion to chat and link up. Speaking of soup, we then moved to the table to enjoy a delicious soup made right there while we were visiting. Soon enough we were invited to join a party of Rummy, which we had to decline as it was time to go….

What a remarkable place, where a natural way of interaction filled community members and visitors with joy. Over my career as a public health physician since 1973, this was only my second visit to a place where hospital staff offer an infrastructure and tell clients or beneficiaries: “This is your center, you decide how to use it to live a happy, healthy life.  We’ll just be present if you need us.” An administrative person supports the management, and a nurse comes once a week to offer a set of health checks. That’s it!  (The first time was a year ago, in Uganda, where older persons decided to live together in harmony.)

There is the parallel between both experiences. Whether we serve individuals or communities let us resist our urge to intervene. Let us offer the presence needed to create the space for individuals and communities to take charge of their lives and mobilize their strengths to progress towards a healthy, happy life.

Attached the original file with pictures


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Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on December 13, 2018 at 7:43pm

In response, I would like to share an extract from conversation between Patrick Fine and Rick Barton about his book A Deeper Look: Lessons Learned Throughout a Career in Humanitarian Response December 2018 

Rick : I do think that the feeling that because of your advantaged, that you're necessarily smarter than the people. I find again, getting back to what you mentioned earlier, it’s both a negative lesson and a positive lesson, because anywhere you go in the world, there are people there who are really quite capable, even a place that's been devastated by genocide. There were still many, many people who were quite capable. And, they will own their problem forever, whereas you will visit their problem. Tourists’ visas are just not the same as full ownership of whatever you have to go through. And, furthermore, they have ideas now. Now, if you also bring fresh ideas and stimulate their thinking, that's a great role for you. So, I really, at the end of the day, I think we've talked about it already, but I would say respect the local initiative, seek out local ingenuity, empower it every way that you can and then recognize that yours is a catalytic role.


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