„If she hadn't come this winter, I wouldn't longer exist.“

„If she hadn't come this winter, I would not longer exist.“
Lenka Arsić, 81 years old 

Lenka lives in the village of Dekutince. Her house stands lonely, with no neighbors, and is some distance from the nearest paved road. The 81 year old woman no longer has any relatives or friends, nor does she has the opportunity to see a doctor, despite her health problems. Like Lenka, many elderly people in rural Serbia feel the same way. In our interview, she tells us how a new mobile care service from Volkshilfe has changed her life.

How are you living here Lenka?

For the last 30 years I have lived here alone. If Goca (Gordana) had not come this winter, I would no longer exist. I have no relatives since my brother died in 2012. Goca is both for me now, my brother and my sister.

I was born in this house, I have lived here all my life and I will stay here until it ends. The house is as old as I am, it has an earth floor, there are mice, Goca brought me traps. I don't have a bathroom, only a big washing bowl. In summer I let the water bottles warm up in the sun, then I sit on the terrace and wash myself. When I wake up in the morning, I make fire, but my stove is not good. I can't bake on it anymore. I used to make bread myself, but now the kneading has become too hard for me, and Goca brings me fresh bread every week. In winter I have a blanket and a quilt to cover myself with, so I don't get cold.

i live off my father's pension, which is 13,200 dinars (112 euros). it's hard to get by with so little money. My health is not so good. I can't climb stairs anymore and I fell three months ago. So I sit and lie down most of the time. I take medicine against high blood pressure and for the heart. Goca also brings me the medicine.

How has Corona changed your life?

I am lonely. My friend from the village doesn't come to visit me since Corona, we spent a lot of time together. No one comes to see me anymore. I am alone and sometimes I am afraid, I hear so much on TV about the virus, that you should not go out, how many people get infected, get sick, sometimes I can't sleep, then I take a pill.

How difficult is it to live alone here?

I am always alone and people steal things from me. My father had tools in the hut, a plow and other tools. One evening I heard noises outside. They took everything.

How has mobile support changed your life?

Nobody helped me before. No one has brought me anything. I just don't have a family anymore. Since the winter, Goca has been coming regularly. When she is not there, there is disorder, then she comes to clean up. She brings me wood to heat, builds fires, and puts the firewood on the patio so I don't have to go outside. I trust her absolutely. She makes me stew, macaroni, vegetables and beans, she cooks very well. When the weather is nice, she takes me to the terrace so I can get some sun, then we laugh and talk.

What kind of support helps you the most?

It means a lot to me that Goca visits me regularly. I am always happy when she comes and very sad when she leaves. Sometimes I cry. The doctor's visit also means a lot to me. She took my blood pressure and examined my spine because I have a lot of problems walking. The doctor told me if I need anything, I can call her anytime and she will come. That alone, means so much to me.

"People who previously lived on the sidelines suddenly become visible again."
Gordana Marković, 45 years old

Gordana works as a social worker in the Volkshilfe project for mobile care and support of elderly people in the Vladičin Han region. She looks after ten other people in addition to Lenka and sees the project as a great opportunity for everyone involved.

What problems do older people have to deal with here in rural Serbia?

The biggest problems are poverty and loneliness. Many elderly people have very small pensions. They often lack the money for basic services. Their health is fragile. The young move to the cities for education or work and the old stay behind. There are 50 villages in our region, all inhabited almost exclusively by the elderly. The houses are scattered over the hills, far from each other, not easy to reach, especially in winter.

What about health care in general?

Corona has slowed things down here as well, but generally the care is good. However, for the elderly, the biggest problem is that they can't get to the local health centers, so they rarely go to the doctor. If you don't have a bus, a car, or even an escort, you are cut off from the health care system.

How many colleagues are currently working in the project and how many people are being cared for?

We are 17 colleagues and each of us cares for 10 elderly people, which means that we can currently support 170 people on a regular basis. We work as a team: a project manager, a medical doctor and a social worker. Twice a month we exchange information and discuss experiences and cases, which is very helpful.

What impact does the project have on people?

I have the feeling that people who previously lived on the sidelines suddenly become visible again. Their existence is noticed, someone visits them, takes care of them. That is something beautiful and important. Every single visit means so much to a person who is alone and sick. The visits by our doctors also play a special role - not only the medical advice, but also the attention and being taken seriously contribute to a better well-being. The news that there is someone who visits the elderly has spread quickly and the project is well received. Being part of this project means a lot to the elderly. But it also means a lot to us.

What did you think when you first met Lenka?

At our first meeting Lenka was very reserved. Then we chatted a bit and I brought her firewood. Already the second time she was happy about my visit. In the beginning Lenka's house was crammed with things. She could hardly move. I then worked with her to put things in order and now she can move around more and has become more mobile again. Her home is working better for her again. That makes me happy. If I could do something that makes people happy, then I'm happy too.

Has the project changed your life, too?

I grew up with my grandmother. She couldn't walk for the last three years and we took care of her. So I grew up that way and I like taking care of the elderly. I enjoy doing this work and it also allows me to support my family. I am the sole breadwinner and my son wants to do an education in Belgrade. With the salary I can support him in this. This will change his life.


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