THE UNSUNG HEROES OF THE ELDERLY
THE STORY OF CHRISTA
We all think that helping out for an hour or so, each week is of great service, and don’t get me wrong, doing Seva is great but how should we take our Seva to the next level? I interviewed an elderly couple, my neighbours, who always inspire me to do more. For anyone who knows them, Christa and David tend to make you smile, instantly, just by looking at you. I met them when I moved house to New Malden. 2 doors away from us, they took the time to come meet us and get to know us. In fact, they were our first visitors and gave us a first good impression of the community, because they made us feel like family. This is only a drop in their ocean of love. Christa and David also started a project called ‘Wheels Appeals’ where volunteering drivers pick up elderly people who are unable to travel to the GP themselves. This saves time for the GP, as they will no longer have to make trips to individual homes and can spend more time, seeing other patients. This also allows the patients to meet someone new and spend time out of their houses, which some don’t always get. The project also allows the doctor to diagnose and treat a patient more easily.
I interviewed Christa to get a better insight of their work and how it all came about for her:
“I was born in the year before WW II started, in the main industrial area of the Ruhr but spent much of my childhood in a village near Münster (Westfalia). It was a difficult time for my parents and my older brother. My father worked for the church and had witnessed Reichskristallnacht (meaning the night of broken glass. Nazi mobs all over Germany, torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses and killed close to 100 Jews on the same night. Emergency services were told not to react to the incidents) in Paderborn; the centre of the organisation he worked for. The event had deeply distressed him which was reflected in the speeches he made after it, against the uprising the Nazi party. Soon he was forbidden to speak publicly in Westfalia. When he protested, a reply came at once! “Not allowed to speak publicly anywhere in Germany”. However, this did anything but stop him. He continued meetings in churches and halls whenever it was possible to prevent “advance notice” or in secret places. The secret police nearly caught up with him several times but he always managed to just get away in time, one time he was even arrested by a policeman. I soon learnt that “Come and bake with Aunt Maria” was a code that meant “father could not come home as a visit from the secret police was likely”. The first time round that this code was used, I was very excited as I looked forward to just meeting my aunt, let alone bake with her, but a wave of disappointment overcame me when I realised that no such occasion was going to happen. To keep us safe, sisters in a convent gave us shelter. My father was saved by the army. He went missing in 1940 but returned in the autumn of 1945, after being in a Russian prison of war camp. The Russians, had seen “Enemy of the State” printed all over his papers by the Nazis and had respected his actions, so they sent him home, where he soon began his work for the church again, meeting and talking to workers and families almost every day.
After the war, one of his fundraising ideas was to appeal to all workers to donate daily 3 minutes’ worth of their daily work’s pay. Initially he was told that he could not hope for 1 million DM and would be lucky to receive 500 thousand. Within 6 weeks, he received over 2 million DM! He used this money in Africa, where several harvests had failed, causing people to starve. My father sent 3 or 4 agricultural specialists to go and assess the situation. He then brought Africans to be trained and go home to train more of their own people about more effective methods of farming. This allowed farmers to create more crops than needed which would allow them to improve themselves and get their families out of starvation for longer as they now knew how to combat any issues they would face.
I remember him driving me to my boarding school, dictating his ideas to me. However this made feel very sick but my father was so deep in his ideas, he did not take notice of my car sickness. (He apologised later but I understood!) He had been contacted by missionaries from Nosi Be (Madagascar) and hoped to help them. One request from them was to use the money he raised, to build a beautiful church there so that people could come together and pray. He refused, saying that people could come together and pray under a beautiful tree, or wherever, but a cathedral wouldn’t rid their state of starvation. My mother did all she could to support him and their example; their faith and their courage to do what they felt was just and right, was a hugely formative influence.
Later on, I trained to be a teacher in England and for 8 years I taught in Tolworth, then for 20 years, in St Maurs, Weybridge which is now part of St. George’s College. I thoroughly enjoyed working with children, and young people and was fortunate to be working under the guidance of two inspired head teachers, who gave me the opportunity to train, part time, to become a school counselor. After years of experience in the field, I joined Cruse and trained to be a bereavement counselor, as a volunteer. I did this work for 15 years, until my retirement. My English teacher in Germany, with whom I had kept in touch with, gave me advice which accompanies me to this day. When I was asked to train as counsellor, I did not have the confidence to believe that I could do it. I asked several people who knew me well for their advice – her’s was the one that was the decided it for me. She wrote “If you asked me if you should apply for the job, I’d say to leave it alone, it is too demanding, but you have been asked to do it and that means that a talent has been spotted. If we have been given a talent, it is our duty to use it.”
I was reminded of her words when I retired and whilst I decided to take a break from counselling, I knew I had to help when the GP surgery asked for volunteer drivers to assist patients who were unable to get to see their doctors on their own. I was alarmed to find how many lovely people live alone in our prosperous area and so we started to drive patients to the surgery, arranged summer and Christmas parties and monthly coffee mornings, just to make their lives a little a bit easier, a little happier and a little less lonely. And as I said if we are needed and have the ability to help, then we have a duty to do so if we want to call ourselves responsible humans. For example, since I loved teaching and children, I began to volunteer as a ‘reading buddy’ at a school and I continue helping at that school I wish to share a prayer that I said with my class every morning in school; Lord, make me a better person, more considerable to others more honest with myself, more faithful to you. Make me generous enough to want sincerely to do your will, whatever it may Help me to find my true vocation in life and grant that through it I may find happiness myself and bring happiness to others.“
When I asked Christa what message she wanted the youth to take away from her life, she replied “Have the courage and confidence to live your faith, whatever it is. Respect God’s creation. Believe in yourself, employ your talents and serve our precious planet with your abilities.” My brothers and sisters, how wonderfully put was that, all of Swami’s sayings for the youth in one small paragraph! I remember when I first asked her to be interviewed, she said that she did not think of herself as a hero but as an ordinary person with good values and that she is not superhuman in nature. There are many other stories, such as Christa’s, waiting to be told, one of which could be yours. Let us take a step towards our beloved Sai by doing more Seva, and as He has always said, He will take 100 steps towards you. Many of us feel that we do not have the time or capacity to do Seva, but Seva doesn’t need to be extremely large. Help your local community, become a good role model and inspire others. I wish everyone the greatest of luck.
Jai Sai Ram