Nepalese Mother Gains International Fame for Sheltering Abandoned Elderly Women

 

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Nepal

A 60-year-old Nepalese woman cares for more than 100 abandoned elderly women.

KATHMANDU, NEPAL – Dil Shova Shrestha, 60, has provided shelter, food and care for abandoned elderly women in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, for the past 16 years at Aama Ko Ghar, which means Mothers Home in Nepali.

“When I was a little girl, my father always stressed on the value of love and care of the old people,” she says. “I was thus inspired by my father.”

After Shrestha’s daughter married in 1995, she felt alone and depressed, she says. Her husband had left her four years earlier because she had not given birth to a son.

After her daughter moved out to live with her husband, Shrestha started caring for an 84-year-old woman from a wealthy family in Kathmandu, she says. She had discovered the woman when visiting the family’s house with a friend. The woman had been wearing a gold bracelet and necklace but had been lying alone in a dark, foul-smelling room.

“It was absolutely pathetic to see an old woman suffering like that, though she belonged to a rich family with four sons,” Shrestha says. “I forgot my own grief.”

While visiting this woman, Shrestha discovered an even larger need, she says. On each trip, she saw the same five elderly and hungry-looking homeless women begging in the streets.

“I wanted to take them to my house and provide them care,” she says. “This induced me to start the mothers home.”

So she emptied one of the 10 rooms she rented in her house, prepared five beds for those five women and started Aama Ko Ghar in 1997, she says.

“I couldn’t stand the sight of their sufferings, and I brought them here to share whatever I could afford,” she says.

Her house now accommodates 50 abandoned elderly women and 52 children, she says. She also houses an additional 15 women at her sister’s home.

In her 16 years of operating the home, she has cared for about 150 helpless, sick and homeless elderly women, she says.

She has received more than 100 awards for her work from various organizations, she says.

Families abandon older women for many reasons, including not being able to financially support them or pay for their medical expenses, says Fatik Thapa, the executive director of the Nepal Participatory Action Network, a nongovernmental organization that promotes development for poor and underprivileged people in Nepal. Children also abandon elderly parents when they migrate abroad.

Shrestha bathes the elderly women and children, massages their aching bodies with oil, trims their nails, and assists them in the bathroom, she says. Two women help cook and clean in the house. The Non-Resident Nepali Association, an organization in Norway for the Nepalese diaspora, pays their salaries. But Shrestha does not take any income for her work.

“I feel really privileged to be able to provide shelter and care for the elderly mothers who have been disowned and abandoned by their family,” Shrestha says. “I feel sensitive to hear their stories of happiness and sadness.”

When the elderly women die, she takes their bodies to graveyards or crematories for their last rites, Shrestha says. So far, she has arranged and paid for the cremation of 75 women, which is an expensive process.

“As I needed more money when someone died, I prayed that no one would ever die,” she says.

But her financial situation recently improved after Bijaya Kumar Pandey, a talk show host, interviewed her in July 2012 on the Kantipur Television Network, a private television station in Kathmandu, she says. People nationally and internationally learned about her altruistic work, sparking a flood of aid.

“Presently, many people now visit and help us,” Shrestha says.

Her daughter, who moved to the United States in 2006, also sends 35,000 rupees ($380) each month.

Shrestha received most of her awards after her interview, she says.

Some people now call to inform her about abandoned elderly women, she says. Others leave elderly people at her doorstep at night.

Local residents say they admire Shrestha’s work.

People rarely provide such selfless service to others, says Nanu Adhikari, 60. She brings food to the mothers home twice a year on her and her granddaughter’s birthdays.

“We cannot even manage four people in our family,” Adhikari says. “It is highly commendable for somebody to manage more than 100 people in a single house. That is why Dil Shova is respectable.”

Still, Shrestha aspires to expand her work. Operating just one mothers home does not satisfy her desire to help others, she says.

“I wish we could build up such homes in all the 75 districts of the country and house helpless and needy elderly women and children,” she says. “I wish no elderly woman in Nepal would sleep hungry and unattended on the roadsides.”