NYC’s Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, Nisha Agarwal, spoke about the different programs her office offers immigrant seniors.
New York City’s Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs, Nisha Agarwal, visited India Home’s Desi Senior Center on December 2, 2015, on the occasion of First Year Anniversary of the center.
Councilman Rory Lancman and the Consul General for Bangladesh, Shammem Ashan, as well as Dr. Wahedur Rahman, the President of Jamaica Muslim Center, were also invited guests.
Help for immigrant seniors
Commissioner Agarwal spoke about new initiatives from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs that would help immigrant seniors. She said many immigrant seniors don’t apply for citizenship because of cost, or difficulty with the qualifying exam. She said that many don’t understand that under certain circumstances, especially for older Individuals, the strict requirements are often waived. She offered to send representatives to Desi Senior Center to help our seniors better understand not only the citizenship process, but also their legal rights.
India Home as “second home”
Councilman Rory Lancman and the Consul General for Bangladesh, Shameem Ashan spoke very highly of the services offered by India Home. Councilman Lancman, said that he was “enormously proud” of this program,” and the fact that our members come to the center “even in the rain,” and that they consider it their “second home.”
Councilman Rory Lancman said “he was enormously proud” that so many seniors consider India Home’s Desi Senior Center “a second home.”
Sunnyside Community Center celebrations
Diwali may be celebrated for only a few days in the year in India, but for our seniors the festivities have lasted all month long. The Festival was launched with a grand celebration at Sunnyside Community Center. Our member Usha Mehta, spearheaded the planning and execution with a little help from her friends. We had fun decorating the space with traditional diyas and hangings.
Over 65 of our members attended the event, which featured among other events, a vigorous garba dance in the main hall of the Sunnyside Center. India Home’s seniors, Chandrakant Sheth and Hasmukhbhai, explained the socio-cultural and spiritual significance of Diwali to the members of Sunnyside Community Center.
Hasmukhbai explains the significance of Diwali
Seniors from various other cultural backgrounds like Hispanic, Chinese and Eastern European listened avidly as India Home’s members talked about Ram’s defeat of Ravana and his triumphant return to Ayodhya. The speakers drew connections between all cultures and the significance of light vanquishing darkness. India Home’s seniors distributed platters of homemade Diwali sweets to their American friends, enjoyed a wonderful vegetarian Diwali meal and ended the day with music and dancing.
Dancing the Ras Garba for Diwali
Kew Gardens Center: Parallels drawn between Hanukkah and Diwali
Usha Mehta, one of our most active members, took the lead to bring the bright lights of Diwali to a multicultural crowd at India Home’s Kew Gardens Center. It was interesting to hear the comparisons drawn between the Hindu festival and the Jewish festival of Hannukah, and the significance that light holds in both these ancient cultures.
- “We strive to bring light into the lives of our seniors with the support of all our elected and government officials.” Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi said at the City Hall Diwali celebrations.
City Hall Honors India Home
The celebrations ended with an invitation to City Hall. Councilman for District 24, Borough of Queens, Rory Lancman (dressed up in an Indian kurta for the occasion) presided over a program of Indian dances. India Home’s Executive Director, Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, was awarded a citation from the city for outstanding service to the senior community in Queens. The celebration and India Home was featured in the Indian Panorama.
India Home in the media
In this regular feature we interview our seniors for insights into the life they’ve lived. This month we talked to Mr. Benjamin Samson.
Benjamin Samson, 72, likes to make people laugh. A Jewish member of India Home’s center at Queens Community House at Kew Gardens, Benjamin likes to tease people and crack jokes. He was born in Mumbai, India, and came to New York after living for 18 years in Israel. India Home chatted with him about his adventurous life, it’s unexpected twists and turns, and his many avatars–as army man, railway man, and occasional repairman.
On being in the Israeli army in the 1970’s: In the Israeli Army my job was to fix the tanks and the airplanes. The tanks would go in front and we would follow behind them. If there was something that broke down then I would get the parts and fix it. One time, I remember there were bushes on the side of the road. They were moving. There were enemy fighters hiding in them, shooting at us. But the aircraft would land and we would have to find the parts and fix them, no matter what.
On striving: When I got to America there was an exam I needed to take. When I got there I realized I had missed it – I was late. But I went up to the them and said, I missed the exam, but can I still take it? And they said yes, okay. I took it and I passed. I got a job as a technician with the MTA. Fixing the trains. I worked for Metro North. It was dangerous work because you had to be on the tracks. I would work at night, come home and sleep, then go right back. I worked a lot of overtime. I wanted to work and they paid well, very well.
On being retired: I like to repair things. Radios, computers, electronic things. People bring their broken down things to my house and I repair them. I don’t charge them–it’s more like a hobby. Whenever I go to repair radios, I don’t take money. But you know how Indians are. Their wives will say, “You have to eat something, Mr. Samson. I’m not going to let you go without eating.” That kind of Indian hospitality you won’t find anywhere else. My son bought a flat and there were so many thing that needed to be fixed. So I went over and fixed the door knobs, the flush. I like all that engineering stuff.
- “When I was in the Israeli Army my job was to fix the tanks and airplanes. The tanks would go in front and we would follow behind them. If there was something that broke down then I would get the parts and fix it. One time, I remember there were bushes on the side of the road. They were moving. There were enemy fighters hiding in them, shooting at us.”
A favorite memory of his life in America: I was working for security at LaGuardia airport. When the bags were going through the machine I saw that a man was carrying a knife in his bag. It was a big knife. I told my supervisor-stop the machine. She didn’t listen so I stopped the machine. She said, Why did you stop the machine? I said look, There’s a knife. She said, No, there’s no knife. That’s not a knife. I said there is a knife. Explosives look green. A knife looks green. She said, go inside and don’t do anything. I came out and said, no you have to check- this guy is taking a knife on board. Then she opened the bag and she found the knife. Then she said, how did you know? I’m a supervisor and I didn’t know. I said, in Israel, they have very good security–because they have a lot of experience of terrorists. After 9/11 I met my supervisor on the platform — I was working for the MTA. She said. “You are a very good person.” I have got experience, I’m Indian but I lived in Israel 18 years. My brothers are still there. I travel there all the time.
“There is neither Hindu nor Mussulman (Muslim), but only man. So whose path shall I follow? I shall follow God’s path. God is neither Hindu nor Mussulman and the path which I follow is God’s.”
Thus said Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. According to the calendar Sikhs follow, his birthday falls this year on November 25th and India Home member Suresh Sethi (himself a Sikh) decided to acknowledge and celebrate Guru Nanak Gurupurabh at our Kew Gardens Center. Raghubir Bhatti, another member and Sharon Gill, our yoga teacher, all joined together in a small presentation on the unique life and teachings of Guru Nanak. They told stories of miracles that made people aware of Guru Nanak’s divinity. Then they shared the percepts of tolerance and love that characterize the Sikh religion: sharing, helping and caring for those in need; making an honest living without exploitation or fraud; and meditating on God’s name to control human weaknesses.
National studies have shown that South Asians in America face difficulties in getting good healthcare. Many South Asians report that language is an issue; they cannot communicate well in English and therefore find it harder to make their health needs understood. Often large percentages of the South Asian population are uninsured. All these factors prevent certain South Asians from seeing a doctor regularly and getting check-ups. Consequently, they are screened less for blood pressure and diabetes, diseases that are easily manageable if properly diagnosed and treated.
Now India Home’s Desi Senior Center is doing something about this problem. We recently had a program to teach volunteers from the community how to properly use and read blood pressure monitors. The DREAM Coalition and NYU in collaboration with India Home has started the first steps of the Keep on Track program. According to Leah of NYU’s Center for the Study of Asian American Health, “This CDC funded federal program is aimed at reducing heart disease in Asian American communities throughout New York City and New Jersey by allowing members of the community to have regular blood pressure screenings. Local volunteers were trained at Star Kebab by the DREAM Coalition and observed by the NYC DOH. ” Twenty-five community volunteers, recruited through India Home, were taught about the risks factors that contribute to heart disease. They were also taught about how to prevent heart disease, and the proper use and reading of blood pressure monitors. The first screening event was held on November 11th at India Home.
Shagufta Shah of the Family Justice Court Queens, NYC translated the information into Hindi to our members
Josh Rotkin of JASA explained different kinds of elder abuse and where to seek help
A senior is struck or pushed around. Or locked in a room and denied food or water. He or she is forced to sign their bank accounts or property over to a family member or are unable to prevent large amounts being withdrawn from their account.
Elders are afraid to report abusers
Actions like the ones detailed above are considered abuse. Often the victims are afraid to report these happenings or won’t report them because the abuser is a family member. Elders may be afraid of the family member retaliating and abusing them farther.
How to get help
On October 26th, seniors at India Home’s Sunnyside location learned how to seek help for abuse. The Family Justice Center of Queens brought Josh Rotkin and Shagufta Shah from JASA ( Jewish Association Serving the Aging) to talk about the different types of elder abuse, talk about cases and detailed ways these organizations could help seniors. It was a very informative and eye opening session and our seniors had a productive discussion afterward.
Ways to find help:Family Justice Center Queens
Commissioner Donna Corado of DFTA
DFTA visits the Sunnyside Community Center
Sunnyside Community Center was all a-buzz this morning. Donna Corado, the Commissioner for NYC’s Department for the Aging and her staff had come to visit. Her purpose? She was there to listen to older adults, their caregivers, community partners, advocates and service providers in Queens give testimony on issues that impact New York City’s older adults. She also wanted to deliver some good news: For City Fiscal Year 2016 (July 1, 2015- June 30, 2016), the Department’s budget is projected at $325 million, approximately 14% more than Fiscal Year 2015 which is about 21 million dollars more. What’s more, the City will, for the first time, offer mental health services for seniors at 20 centers. Commissioner Corado began by urging all of us to look out for one other. She said DFTA’s mission is to eliminate ageism from New York City.
Our members testify
Members Chandrakant Sheth and Usha Mehta, and a staff member, testified for India Home. Sheth and Mehta spoke of how much they liked coming to India Home and taking part in it’s culturally appropriate services like festivals, vegetarian meals and trips. However, they also advocated for increased transportation services for seniors and translation services that would enable older adults with limited language ability greater access to services. Our staff member spoke about how India Home is the only secular orgaization serving older adults of South Asian descent in New York City and we provide programming for over 1000 South Asian seniors a year. Our catchment area in Jamaica queens has over 23,000 adults of South Asian origin in it – and the Desi Senior Center alone serves over 120 people a day, three days a week. Many of our members are isolated in their immigrant communities and our services provide a means to learn and integrate into American life. For instance, our trips to Manhattan and Amish County showed our members how different cultures cooexist in our city and country. DFTA spent about 2 hours at Sunnyside Community Service Center and made sure they heard from a diverse, articulate and concerned group of seniors. For our part, all of us at India Home were happy to have our views heard.
Breast Cancer Awareness Self Help Peer Group at Desi Senior Center
India Home partnered with Sapna NYC, our sister organization, to start a breast cancer awareness group at the Desi Senior Center. We had a group of eight energetic women led by our senior, Saleha Begum. They met every Tuesday for eight weeks. Sapna NYC’s Community Health Worker, Laila Akhter, instructed the group during each meeting. At the end of the eight sessions, our group participated in a mammogram workshop. During the eight weeks and even afterwards, the women from the Self Help Peer Group outreached to two or three isolated women in the community to deliver health education.
Our eight seniors coming together is known as a peer education group. Peer education has been found to be an effective method of public health education because people are more receptive to learning and absorbing information from their peers. In addition, most public health education doesn’t always reach vulnerable or isolated people. This makes peer education a more effective method because it works through community networks.
Breast cancer awareness is important to the South Asian community. Many women do not know how to check for lumps and other symptoms that may lead to more a serious condition. We hope that with the beginning of this peer group, we inspire other women in the South Asian community to reach out and access important public health services.
“When we are all together I feel strong. Alone I cannot go even one block. But together with so many people I can go ten blocks also.”
India Home interviewed* member Rabeya Khanom, 67, who came to America from Bangladesh in 2002 and has been a member of India Home’s Desi Senior Center since 2014.
On her life in Bangladesh:
I was a teacher in Holy Cross School in Dacca for 25 years. I also taught in Shine college for eight years. I taught botany, zoology, biology and science and math. My husband was the General Manager for Janata Bank. He died eight years ago. We were in Bangaldesh and he woke up from sleep and said he wasn’t feeling well. We went to the hospital and in half an hour he was gone. He was 63.
On what she tells people back home about America:
When I come here I see no leaves on the trees. Every day I watch the tress. I wonder, what happened, what happened? Then when April comes I see only flowers. Then slowly the leaves come back. I see the squirrel with its long tail. I like this. I told them I like this flower, I like this squirrel.
On her ex-students:
So many of my students from Bangaldesh are in America and so many come to my house. They call me on festivals. They invite me to come to their house. When they see me they hug me. They say, Madam, I haven’t seen you for so long. You look the same but you are a little bit fat. (she giggles). I am so proud that my students remember me.
On what she likes about this country:
I like that the roads run one-way. Because of the one -way roads there are no accidents. I feel safe in this country. The roads are jammed in Bangladesh. It is easy to live here. And the medical facilities are so good. My neighbor is good. He always say hello. In this country, the seniors help each other. Sometimes I use my walker or my cane. On the street, older people ask me, “May I help you?” On Saturday and Sunday’s we cook, we go to the park and other places to see things. Last Saturday I went apple picking. I’ve also gone pumpkin picking.
On what she does for entertainment:
I have many relatives here. All my six sisters are here. I am never lonely. I enjoyed the senior center. When I alone, I always read. I like every book.
Lots of books to chose from at the Desi Senior Center
When I have no books, I read the newspaper. In Bangaldesh I read Rabindranath Tagore, Nusrul Islam. Mujid. Here I read Koran and the Hadith. The Koran is the code of life. It tells you what to do for older people, how to dress, what you eat, how to behave.
On the Desi Senior Center:
My son and son-in-law go to work. In the daytime, there’s no one in my house. Here I get to talk with other people. I can be with others. The most important thing is that I get to exercise here in the senior center. I go the Mosque here and I pray. The center gives us so many books. India Home took us to the Museum – it had so many different ancient things that I hadn’t seen before. I feel proud, becauseI came back and showed my grandson and daughter the pictures. I could tell them about the history that I had seen in the Museum. People were wondering if I would be able to walk through the Museum. But I said, I have no problem. When we are all together I feel strong. Alone I cannot go even one block. But together with so many people I can go ten blocks also.
* content edited for brevity and clarity
Many of the seniors who attend India Home’s Desi Senior Center in Jamaica had never been to Manhattan. This is only natural, given their age and the fact that many of them are new immigrants to our fair city.
But all that changed on August 31st. On that day, India Home took them on a day trip to Manhattan and showed them some of it’s most iconic sights.
Keeping cultural sensitivities in mind, there were two buses. One for the ladies and another for the gentlemen. Of course, couples got to sit together!
The first stop was the Metropolitan Museum of Art – one of the world’s largest and finest art museums.
The entire museum is about 2 million square feet, so obviously there was no way our members were going to see all of it in a day. However, they did manage to see several of the highlights. The seniors, nearly all of them Muslims, particularly enjoyed the Islamic World section of the Museum. It has an amazing collection of art, calligraphy and objects from all corners of the Islamic world.
Lunch was in Central Park, delivered by Vintage Restaurant. Talk about service!
Many of our members did their afternoon prayers on the grass.
The next leg of the trip took members around New York, with our guides pointing out the city’s landmark buildings and spaces. Our members marveled at the Empire State building, the crowds in Times square, Madison Square Garden, Penn Station, Union Square, and the latest addition to NYC’s skyline—the Freedom Tower. They also stopped by the WTC Memorial.
Then it was on to Battery Park and back to Queens.
Nargis Ahmed, the Community Liaison Director for India Home said:
“I was very happy that we could do something like this for them. Everyone left in a happy mood.”