WOW | WOW Honor of Achievement
Pramila Bajracharya Thapa
From a successful career in the development field to working as an advocate for senior citizen rights with a focus on Alzheimer cases, Pramila Bajracharya Thapa chose simply to follow her heart. As a child Pramila felt compelled to talk to the elderly and offer help where she could. She wanted to know their life story… and was deeply impacted by the situation of the elderly left homeless or uncared for by their families. “I always knew I wanted to work with our elders. Even as a child I couldn’t ignore them on the side of the road. I wanted to talk to them, find out how they got here, and how I can help them”.
She had a successful career working in human resources with a development agency but something inside did not feel fulfilled. She wanted to do more. She wanted to mean more. She wanted to make the world a little better. In 2014, she founded The Hope Hermitage as a space of knowledge transformation for the elderly where they could find care and recreational activities. It was also intended to be a senior citizens club and daycare center. However, she had not expected that the majority of elderly coming to her had either Alzheimer’s or Dementia. Society attached a stigma to being mentally unwell. Families did not know how to care for them. There was not enough awareness or medical support even otherwise. Pramila knew that she must do something. But she had neither the educational background nor the experience to address it directly. Yet she stood unfazed by the challenge. She would find a way.
After the 2015 earthquake the number of elderly coming to The Hope Hermitage with mental diseases continued to disproportionately outweigh those without. Pramila had by this time also understood that as long as an elderly person was sufficiently able, the family was happy to have them home, but the moment dependency increased, they were considered a burden.
The Hope Hermitage is run as a private company and Pramila wanted the issues of Alzheimer and Dementia to be taken up as a national program. As a result, she founded Hope Hermitage Nepal as a non government organisation that works on senior citizen rights and issues. The NGO allowed Pramila to gain access to the senior citizen network and initiate discussions with government on how to deal with their issues, conduct research and awareness programs, as well as initiate a network nationally and internationally to find collaborative points of work and knowledge exchange. Many programs have been born from HHN since:
- Awareness programs for out lining the requirements of taking care of elderly with these diseases.
- A caretaker training program which encourages, empowers, trains and employees women in a curriculum developed specifically for Nepali elderly.
- Alzheimer’s alliance network where families who are caring for elderly with these diseases can meet and discuss their experiences and further develop caring for their loved ones.
Both HHN and THH have been pioneer organisations to work on Alzheimer and Dementia in Nepal. Pramila continues to learn and gain knowledge on how to best deal with these issues.
She is a ray of hope and the reason for smiles on many ageing faces. An afternoon spent at The Hope Hermitage introduced us to the love she shares and receives from the elderly residents. What worries her is the increasing statistics of people being diagnosed with Alzheimer and Dementia including two Alzeihmer cases reported of a 40 year old man and a 34 year old woman. She worries that Nepal had very few qualified doctors specialising in these treatments and only two memory clinics in the country.
Ageing in Nepal is not easy. Lifestyles are changing dramatically. There is little time and fewer resources. It’s hard to find help and support. By 2020, Nepal’s senior population will be substantially larger, and it is something the country needs to be prepared for. Individuals like Pramila are tirelessly working to create a space where the senior population feels safe, wanted and secure. It is also time to enable seniors to take responsibility for their wellbeing in a positive and strong way.
Pramila Bajracharya Thapa is the recipient of the WOW Hope and Health Honor of Achievement for 2017 as a champion of the elderly.