.- A new home for the elderly in Thailand will seek to restore respect for senior citizens and to fight the escalating problems of elderly abandonment and suicide in the country.
Bishop Joseph Chusak Sirisut of Nakhon Ratchasima told CNA that there is an absence of “social care centers for the elders in this whole region.”
Construction has begun on a new home for the elderly in Korat, its foundational stone laid under the patronage of Bishop Sirisut and Fr. Paul Cherdchai Lertjitlekha, provincial superior and president of the St. Camillus Foundation Thailand.
Fr. Lertjitlekha explained that the effort is not seeking to encourage children to “abandon their elders” to nursing homes.
Rather, he said, such homes are “a last resort” that can help to ensure that the elderly’s right to health care and pastoral care is fulfilled.
“The love and affection of the family can’t be substituted,” he stressed.
The new home is a pastoral response to the demographic situation in Thailand. A recent study from the Institute for Population and Social Research at Mahidol University showed Thailand as having the highest number of senior citizens in the Association of South East Asian Nations, creating concerns for its future economy.
At the same time, the report found that people are having fewer children, and this trend will aggravate the problem in coming years.
The Diocese of Nakhon Ratchasima has donated 7.2 acres for the new home for the elderly, which is expected to cost about 80 million Baht, close to 2.6 million U.S. dollars.
The diocese and the St. Camillus Foundation have each initially pooled 20 million Baht and hope to fundraise in order to complete the project in three years.
Fr. Giovanni Contarin, project coordinator for the St. Camillus Foundation Thailand, said that the home is being built with the aid of “support, prayers, collaboration and…Divine Providence.”
It will meet a great need in the country, he added, noting that “Thailand is very poor in giving palliative care to the patients.”
The northeastern Isan zone of Thailand, where the new home for the elderly is being constructed, is among the poorest regions of the country, Fr. Contarin explained. Composed of 20 provinces, the area has a large population of displaced and impoverished people. Young people seeking jobs are often lured into drugs, human trafficking and other crime.
Bishop Sirisut said that these “alarming facts” must be met with pastoral care. He described the project as “love in action and love in service,” adhering to the Gospel as encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.
Respect for the life and dignity of senior citizens is “in peril” today, added Fr. Contarin, pointing to a report by Thailand’s Department of Mental Health which indicates that the suicide rates of those aged 70-74 have increased more than those of young people in their 20s.
The new home for the elderly is a “pastoral project” that aims to “provide assistance to people of all creeds, the poor and the rich, who are abandoned and left unattended, to suffer a lonely death,” he stressed.
While acknowledging that “the task is immense,” Fr. Contarin explained that the St. Camillus Foundation has worked for 400 years in a spirit of “faith, charity, service and transparency as a foundation.”
“This project will help us…to build inter-faith sharing and a foundation for dialogue and conversion of heart,” he said.