This program means more to us than our pensions,” said Jaswant, one of the participants of the South Asian Day program.
Jaswant had been insisting that her family send her back to India as she did not want to stay in Canada any longer. After becoming a regular at the program, she no longer wants to go back to India.
She loves attending and meeting up with the other participants. She says she found her space and she is loving it.
Day programs have long been available for seniors but there was nothing designed to meet the language and cultural needs of South Asian seniors.
After much discussion and advocacy, the South Asian Day Program (SADP) opened in September 2021. It was a difficult feat to start a program for vulnerable seniors amid a pandemic, but the need was greater than ever.
“This program is bringing joy and life back for our participants. It is rewarding to see seniors motivated and excited about life again.”
About the Program
SADP is a partnership between Fraser Health and Archway designed to create social and emotional connections for seniors and respite for their families or care providers. Whether they live alone or with family, seniors can become isolated with low physical and mental stimulation.
The program also helps look after participants’ physical health by monitoring chronic health conditions and medications. Several research studies have shown the benefits of day programs on seniors’ rates of hospitalization and in delaying the need to move into assisted living facilities.
The program runs Monday to Thursday and brings together South Asian seniors, typically between 65 and 90 years old. Most attend once a week, while some attend twice a week.
Participants meet at the Khalsa Diwan Society Temple on South Fraser Way two days a week and at Summit Centre on Townline Road the other two days. Services are entirely in Punjabi and snacks are culturally relevant. When at the Khalsa Diwan Society location, langar (free meals at the temple) are provided for lunch.
Artwork created by a program participant.
Barriers to Connection
For many immigrants, it is difficult to leave their homeland and social network but they come to Canada so their family can have a brighter future.
Even after living decades in Canada, as a senior it can become difficult to connect socially with others due to retirement, chronic health conditions, limited transportation, language or technology barriers.
One participant, who moved from Ontario, appreciated how the program gave her the opportunity to meet new people in a safe environment.
Some immigrant families bring their elderly parents over so they are not alone in India. The families may struggle to find the balance between working, taking care of their elders and kids and doing activities with the seniors.
Fraser Health provides a licensed practical nurse, a recreational therapist, and a care aid to meet the needs of the participants. Together with Archway staff they provide a culturally appropriate environment and space which is conducive to activities like exercise classes, music classes, games, cooking, crafts and celebrations.
Jenga and Bingo are favorites amongst the participants who proudly display their artwork and paintings. Many did not have the resources or opportunities to do these activities in India, and may feel shy to ask their grandchildren here. The excitement on their faces while doing the activities speaks volumes about how meaningful it is for them.
“This program is bringing joy and life back for our participants,” said Rupinder Padam, the program’s Outreach Coordinator.
“It is rewarding to see seniors motivated and excited about life again.”
Other favourite activities include: physical exercises, talking about different things to help the participants solve some challenges they may be having, and just getting together.
One senior said she is so grateful for whomever put this program together.
“We sit at home all day while our families are at work, and this is something we look forward to every week.”
Jaswant comes in from Chilliwack every week since she enjoys the day program so much. For participants who don’t have a ride to the sessions, staff can assist in applying for Handy Dart rides.
While fun, activities are carefully selected to engage participants mentally and physically.
A perfect example is target shooting with toy guns which caused some stiff competition. After Amar shot three toy animals in a row, the others commented, “she’s a sharpshooter!”
When Jaswant ended up shooting the same toy animal twice, Jagpal joked, “you already got that one, leave it alone.”
There are culturally appropriate projects such as painting Diwas (lamps) for Diwali and they learn about other cultures. For example, during the Lunar New Year, they learned how to use chopsticks.
Another activity was a spa afternoon where the participants all got hand massages, a quick manicure and their nails painted. Bobbi Binning, the program’s Recreational Therapist, told them she plans to do facials one day as well.
Parmjit laughed and said, “I hope our families recognize us after that!”
Program participants enoying a shooting game together.
Program participants being pampered during a spa day activity.
Every day includes a chai and chat session, a staple in the Indian culture. For birthdays, a pound of Besan (Indian sweet) or a cupcake is included along with a signed birthday card.
As participants and staff gathered one day, Amar reminisced about how she met her husband and how her father-in-law first came to Canada on a boat. It was a simpler time, and she remembers that there was “a sense of belonging and togetherness back then, people would visit often and help each other out. We have lost that now.”
The day program helps restore the belonging that they crave. Gathering as a group helps replicate how they would visit with each other in their village back home in India and participants have been inviting their friends to join the group to experience the camaraderie.
The bond is so strong that when Bobbi recently got married she included the female participants in one of her wedding functions. During the Mayian Ceremony, a paste of henna and flour is applied to the bride-to-be by attendees and good wishes are given to her. The participants took a bus together and sang traditional Punjabi wedding songs on the way. They pooled some funds and bought her a gift.
“We’re helping these seniors have a better quality of life, but at the same time they’re enriching our lives,” said Rupinder. “We are all learning so much from each other, and the amount of blessings I have received from each of the clients really brings tears in my eyes.”
After a successful pilot session, the contract was renewed for another year starting April 2022. Staff and seniors are looking forward to more years of fun, friendship and learning together. ■
Program participants were a part of staff member Bobbi’s wedding ceremony.