"Mom…I thought I was never going to see you guys again…I had given up. I couldn't fight off the guy."
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Building bridges to the elderly
Sasha Bernard, 23, has adopted a grandfather—a resident at the Datta Home for the Aged who she said has a “hot mouth.”
Describing their first encounter, she recalled: “When we first went to the home about two years ago I saw one of the residents, somewhere between 70 and 80, sitting kind of quiet.
“I went up to him and said my name is Sasha. He said, ‘Eh heh? You is a pretty one. You want to go on a date with me tonight?’ I thought he was funny. He had a hot mouth.
“On other visits, I would ask him how he was going and he would say, ‘I going good. But not as good as you’.
“I realised he was a hot boy in his days. He even had a tattoo on his arm. When I asked him about it, he raised his shirt sleeve and showed me and said all the girls used to like it.”
Bernard is founder of Bridges to the Heart, a group formed to restore broken relationships between various groups in T&T. A graduate of the University of Southern Caribbean, she is doing her Masters degree in global public health at Loma Linda University in California, United States. She adopted Ron as her grandfather when Bridges to the Heart launched its first project, Adopt a Grandparent, two years ago in an attempt to break down the walls between the younger and older generations.
“I found out he was a footballer when he was younger during play dough therapy. We introduced this therapy to help residents of the home with their cognitive functions. We let them create what they want with the dough,” Bernard said.
“With his dough, Ron made a goalpost and a football. He would tell us about the days when he played football. His face lights up when he talks about his past.”
Bernard said Ron was from up north and does not seem to have Alzheimer’s but she has never seen anyone visit him at the home during the times she has been there.
When she got together with Esther Burrowes, Cryston Lewis and Justin Matthew, all graduates of USC in different areas of study, to form Bridges to the Heart, the elderly was not their focus.
“But after we started working with them we couldn’t leave. We got attached,” she said.
Bernard said she and other members of the group were shocked to discover just how neglected the elderly are.
“One of God’s commandments is to honour thy father and mother. We are not supposed to cast off our parents when they get older but they just vanish from our minds,” she said.
“In all the time we were at Datta, we only saw people visiting two residents.”
Bernard, the only child of psychiatrist Dr Sandra Reid and Marcus Bernard of Champs Fleurs, plans to stay on the Loma Linda campus to complete her studies next year. She comes back home as often as she can and when she is not here “tries to manage” Bridges to the Heart from afar. She last saw Ron in July 2015 before she went away.
Like she does with Ron, Bernard and her group try to stimulate the residents mentally and socially.
“Sometimes we do this through craft, the use of play dough, or sometimes we just bring music. Justin, one of the directors of Bridges, can play the guitar and we ask the residents what they want to sing.
“They would name a hymn, or an old song. We would find it on You Tube and some would sing along, some would get up and dance and others would just sit and listen.”
Bernard said Bridges to the Heart stayed with the Adopt a Grandparent project for two years because “we didn’t want to do something half-hearted and leave without making a big change.”
They are determined to fix the way senior citizens are treated and Bernard plans to launch new project which will bring even greater awareness of this problem and benefit T&T. She said: “I am waiting until after I graduate next year to launch it.”
“I think my parents showed me so much compassion and love, I have a lot to give out. Bridges started when I saw the elderly being neglected. I always had a passion for helping people. It was the reason I got into public health studies. My entire life is based on trying to help other people,” she said.