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By: Suman Rai

Haley Sanner also known as Hema, originally from the United States, has been working in the field of Social Gerontology over six years. Beginning with an internship at the AARP Foundation in Washington DC, one of the largest non-profits working for low-income older adults, she has further researched the subject while working in US, Europe and Nepal.

Haley has a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Davidson College and sees her quantitative background as a unique lens to shape her passion by improving the social and emotional wellbeing of older people and those with chronic syndromes.

She focuses on intergenerational living space and recently conducted a discussion on the topic with Bihani Social Venture. Excerpts:

When did you first visit Nepal and tell us about your work here?

I first came to Nepal as an undergraduate student in the fall of 2013 while studying development and social change with School International Training (SIT) – a college program that empowers American students to spend one academic semester abroad studying the local culture and language while conducting independent research. During that semester, I gained exposure to meet some prominent stakeholders working in the aging field as well as gained insights to the most developed and inherent social avenues among Nepali elders. What drew me back to Nepal were both the open minded community and the people’s philosophy. As Western society continues to isolate the older generations through assisted living and nursing home spaces, I find it fascinating to learn and explore how other cultures with more social and joint family traditions are continuing to engage the older generation. I believe that Nepal is in a unique position to enact more innovative social solutions that can create a networked care system between individuals, families and the community.

The concept of redefining living spaces is new. How would you explain it to someone who is unaware of this idea?

The basic concept is to comprehend who lives together, where they live together, and how they live together for mutual benefit. Specifically, it works to reallocate excess space in ways that create new economic relations which are more equaled, sustainable and socially cohesive. Recently, intergenerational home sharing has emerged as a way to simultaneously address the social support needs of older people and the affordable housing needs of youth in various regions across Europe, Australia and US. Differing from traditional renter-landlord economic relationships, intergenerational housing tends to have a service based component that is bartered to offset cost. For example, a young person shares a set number of socialisation hours with their older housemate in return for lower rent or no rent at all.

What inspired you to study the concept of home-sharing or redefining living spaces, especially in the context of Nepal?

In some ways, this idea is not completely new, but instead a re-emergence of longstanding traditions of sharing coupled with newer ideals of socially conscious consumption. That intersection of cultural traditions and new social change movements is what inspires me to explore how living spaces could be shared or redefined within Nepali society. There are lots of interesting cultural, religious, ethnic, linguistic, social, economic and historical dynamics that impact how people interact and share space in Nepal. This has really intrigued me to explore how the normative ideas on how people live, provide care, interact with strangers and engage between generations would be reflected in alternative housing initiatives like home-sharing.

How do you justify home-sharing as a win-win for both youth and elders?

It has been proven in communities abroad where intergenerational home-sharing has a huge potential for providing mutual benefits to both the home-sharer and home-seeker. For the elder housemates, they are able to continue living at home with less reliance on family member’s support while potentially earning minimal economic benefits. For the younger person, they are able to afford housing in tight urban housing markets which can in turn enable them to get higher quality education or work experience. Socially, both are able to have a companion that provides security, entertainment and exposure to new ideas. In the case of intangible transfer of knowledge can be the older person’s wealth of past experiences and the younger person’s exposure to new forms of technology. Furthermore, this socialisation time is critical in combating the negative health hazards of depression and social isolation growing among the older populations.

After living in Nepal for some time, how relevant do you think sharing one’s living space is?

As Nepal’s demographics continue to shift towards more elder populations – people above age 60 are predicted to reach 18% of Nepal’s total population in 2050 – and Nepal’s younger generations continue to migrate abroad, there is growing demand for new forms of care giving outside the joint family. Further, unused excess living space grows as Kathmandu’s middle class continues to consume. This space is highly valuable given the natural geographic barriers constricting Kathmandu’s urban growth. Overall, population aging, the lack of care facilities infrastructure, middle class consumerism and urbanisation call for a more efficient alternative. Intergenerational home-sharing could be one such alternative.

What role can an organisation like Bihani play in redefining living spaces?

I think it is important to note that in many cases a third party has been used to help match personalities, living habits, and needs of both home-sharer and home-seeker. I believe this third party plays a critical role in the mutual success of this scheme as communication of expectations is needed to secure equal balance between those sharing a living space. Organisations like Bihani are in prime position to be facilitators in providing needs based matching, screening and mediating between potential intergenerational housemates.

Suman Rai is the Social Activities Coordinator at Bihani Social Venture. He can be reached at sumanrai.bsv@outlook.com
Bihani is a social venture born out of the need to create a positive outlook to life and living meaningfully with focus on individuals above fifty years of age (but not restricted to it) who want to re-engage, re-explore and re-live a new beginning or create a rewarding life second half of their lives based on their past experiences.