Pramila Bajracharya Thapa runs a home for the elderly, focused primarily on people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s a challenge she’s not only capable of handling but seems to enjoy devoting her time to.
As we walk in, it feels like we are entering someone’s private home. There’s a grassy lawn where people can sit; there are colorful flowers and the common room inside is spacious with plenty of room to sit. Pramila Bajracharya Thapa greets us at the door. She’s a middle-aged, friendly person with a ready smile that’s welcoming. “We primarily take care of old people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia but we also take in people who have other problems and need constant care, which they cannot get at home,” explains Pramila.
As we move upstairs to the rooms, it becomes quite apparent how professional the set up is. There are care givers everywhere taking care of patients, the rooms and staircases are spotlessly clean and each room as well as the common room has a TV set. The cleaning ladies are busy and Pramila greets each of the elders and explains to us their individual problems and their related stories. What is striking is how homely the atmosphere is! And as if to prove the point, there’s an old couple who refuse to leave. “They are so happy here that although they don’t have a problem now, they don’t want to go home, so we let them stay,” says Bajracharya.
A sitting minister has brought his parents here as they have nobody to look after them 24 hours a day. And that’s exactly the kind of service Hope Hermitage Elderly Care provides with a doctor on call 24/7 and several care givers looking after them. There’s a retired ex-Advisor of King Birendra who finds it even difficult to swallow.”He’s forgotten how to swallow and we have to be careful when we feed him, so he doesn’t choke,” informs Pramila. One of the patients is a retired teacher from Mahendra Bhawan who has no family. We move on to the next room and there’s a smiling lady who seems quite healthy. But her story is amazing. “She had a terrible accident near Swoyambhu where she was hit by a bus. Not only were her legs totally shattered, she lost a lot of flesh which had to be filled up through surgery. Nobody thought she would ever walk again but she’s such a positive person and so determined to get better, she can walk with the help of a walker now. It’s a miracle!” says Pramila, full of admiration. The simple old lady sits there smiling as if nothing has ever happened to her. But the other folks are not so lucky; they sit on their chairs lost in their own world while some are sleeping. But one old lady is very active; she likes to make her own chakati (round mat) from pieces of colorful shopping bag cut in long strips. That’s how she whiles away her time. A common problem among many elders is the fact that their children are settled abroad.
The signs were always there, even when she was just a child; Pramila used to prefer spending time with her grand-parents while other kids like her went off after their personal pursuits. She talks of an interesting incident when she had looked through her daughter’s old autograph book. It was a long time ago, but Pramila had written, “I will look after the elderly” as her future plan. She got her early education in Dow Hills, Kurseong in India from where she went to Holy Cross College and St. Joseph’s College (North Point, Darjeeling) and finally got her Masters Degree in Public Administration & Human Resources Management from Tribhuvan University. “After completing my studies, I worked for the INGO Action Aid for sixteen long years after which I joined Care International as Senior Manager and was head of Human Resources. I also looked after the Asia Regional Program,” she informs.
It was at the Club & Day Care Centre for the elderly that she first noticed that most of the patients were suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Their families were over-burdened and couldn’t cope. That’s when she took a keen interest and contacted experts to learn more about these ailments. Although she never thought she would end up opening an elderly peoples’ home, she took a care giver’s course. She was soon besieged by desperate people who wanted her to keep their parents even if just for a short time. It seemed she was destined to take care of the old and infirm. “I gave up my lucrative job and started training care givers. Then I opened Hope Hermitage here in Gairi Dhara and I enjoy what I’m doing,” she says. She feels she has found her true calling. She’s happy running the two blocks A and B with Block A full of elders who are helpless and need constant care, while Block B has patients who can move around on their own. Block A and B were opened in 2017, separate from the original home.
Bajracharya takes a personal interest in what and how the patients eat. Doing the shopping herself she works out a good diet of meat, fish and egg whites for her wards. “We give them milk twice a day and the cook has been trained to use less oil. The staff gets their Provident Fund and all of them are insured. Their salaries range from Rs 12,000 to Rs. 25,000 a month and they get a separately prepared staff meal,” she reveals. Block A has twenty-two elders while Block B has eight and Pramila employs twenty-three staff members to look after them.
During the earthquake of 2015, Pramila immediately got into action. She went out looking for people who didn’t have a place to stay and brought them to Hope Hermitage. “This place was full of people as we’d fill the vehicles with survivors of the quake, bring them here and give them shelter. Then we also had to give them food and care. So it was quite a task, but we did it.”
To maintain the highest standards of care, she has engaged her son and daughter who happen to be twins, in the home. Celeste, her daughter is the Managing Director while her son takes care of all logistics including driving the patients to and from hospital, and taking care of all the processes involved. He’s on call 24 hours a day just as Dr. Suresh Karki who was visiting the home while we were there. “All medicines are provided right here and if some patient is going home they are given their medicines to take along and we also provide a care giver to look after them at home. We have trained more than 90 care givers and now we are even sending some to India as well. People come all the way here from India because they can’t find care givers in their own country, according to them,” says Pramila.
Established in February 2014, Hope Hermitage is a private company and people pay for the services the home provides. But Bajracharya also runs an NGO named Hope Hermitage Nepal with the aim of protecting and promoting the rights and welfare of the elderly people. She tries to help people with Alzheimer’s through government run programs and has initiated research and awareness programs as well. She’s an advocate for women’s empowerment and also works closely with the government to ensure Alzheimer’s patients get every benefit possible including their allowances. She is the recipient of the Ananda Devi National Social Award for 2015 and was also awarded the WOW Hope and Health Honor of Achievement in 2017 as a champion of the elderly.
The kind of care the elderly get at Hope Hermitage is hard to replicate. This is not only a pioneering undertaking, but one that requires complete commitment and a real, deep seated desire to help people in need. Taking care of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is one of the most challenging tasks, but Pramila and her staff seem to take it in their stride. Like one lady who had come with her 84-year-old mother told us: “You can’t look after your parents at home the way they can; we all have our jobs to do. And the food here is also so very good and healthy.” That says it all!