Photo from the workshops, credits: Association Outloud

Whilst undertaking precautionary measures and abiding by the health recommendations, the Centre for Healthy Ageing in the Novi Grad Municipality of Sarajevo has become a place where hundreds of the third age citizens find inspiration for creative work and escape from social isolation.

Lejla Šukalo, a 68-year-old woman from Sarajevo, takes a walk from her apartment at Aerodromsko naselje to Alipašino polje at least three times a week, where she gets to a place that made her a “different person” about four years ago.  

This retired graphic designer finds peace in tin foil art and decoupage decoration whilst also being active in other workshops at the Centre for Health Ageing of Novi Grad in Sarajevo, such as physical exercise and book club.  

“When I start doing this, I completely immerse in what I do. One can speak out loud, one can sing next to me, and I would not hear it,” she says.

And singing is something that is not deficient in this Centre, The Centre has 500 registered members, 300 of which are active members who come from all over the Sarajevo Canton. Ever since it started working in 2014, the Centre developed health, creative and educational activities, including frequent visits to museums, poetry nights and going to theatres.  

The premises in a high-rise building ground floor at Alipašino polje are visited by the third age citizens who like to play chess, paint, read books, and many of them come there just to socialise, laugh and sing.

Place for socialising, creativity and education

Fifty-nine-year-old Asim Spahović likes to come here because he can socialise and talk to others, and he also attended a computer course which provided him with the Internet communication skills.

“An hour or two spent here every day is about telling jokes, talking, therapy,” says this retired construction business manager: “This is a psycho-therapy for everyone, everyone comes here to relax a bit, to say whatever is on his or her mind, without any reservations.”

These workshops are funded by the Government of the Kingdom of Norway through the Project “EMBRACE (Enable and Embrace Beneficial Civil Society Environment) implemented by the United Nations Development Programme.  This project has, among other things, supported the enhancement of social inclusion and social services to the vulnerable in local communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a view to preventing social isolation of the third age citizens through creative and educational activities.

“They switch off, they unleash their creativity and imagination and they find it relaxing and calming, particularly when they lose their life partners and come here depressed and lonely,” says Belma Spaho, a thirty-three-year-old activist and one of the founders of Outloud.

Dropping by the Centre, briefly at least, has become a daily routine during the pandemic for a seventy-three-year-old Zinka Sirćo.

“Ever since the Corona virus pandemic has struck us, I am visiting the Centre every day. I am the most frequent guest,” says a retired nurse. Due to her injured arm, she cannot participate in creative workshops, but she attends health lectures on a regular basis.

“It is very nice to come here. One can relax and laugh. It is our only chance to get that here,” says Sirćo.

“It is indeed evident. After such workshops, after a month or two, we can easily see a change in people, we can see that it suits them and they become more eager to join the others in singing and sharing comments in the book club.  And somehow, they become eager to socialise. So, these workshops are definitely beneficial to them. It is not about making a good piece of work or not. What matters is the impact of the workshop and that they get rid of all negative thoughts through their works and workshops,” adds Spaho.

Week of healthy ageing

The Centre for Health Ageing, Novi Grad in Sarajevo, is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 to 14:00 hrs. In addition to workshops and socialising, the Centre also offers health support to its beneficiaries.   

“In addition to workshops, they find it most important to sit here and talk to each other, to learn about someone’s health and whereabouts, and to sing. Singing is an inevitable segment of their therapy,” explains Spaho adding that a large number of beneficiaries also come to measure blood sugar free of charge at least once a week.

“95 percent of beneficiaries definitely suffer from diabetes. Most of them must measure blood sugar twice or three times a day. One blood sugar measuring strip costs KM 1 which is an enormous expenditure for them, bearing in mind their minimum pension of KM 360,” says Spaho adding that those expenditures are huge and that they strive for donor funds so to provide this type of service at least once a week.

Support which the Centre for Health Ageing, Novi Grad in Sarajevo, got from the EMBRACE Project, helped all workshops and services, including the September Week of Health Ageing which provided different activities every day, such as lectures, creative sessions and cooking competitions.

Third age citizens during the pandemic

Limited movement and not seeing other persons, including the closest family members, has been tough for most people in the past months, and it is particularly tough for the third age citizens as the isolation increased fear and concern for their health, the feeling of loneliness and additional irritation, especially those who live alone.

Hobbies and socialising while abiding by the measures and cautious gathering in smaller groups are the ways of overcoming the difficulties faced by people around the globe.

Lejla Šukalo says that she likes to be active and does not like to spend much time at home, and adds that visits to the Centre and all activities in which she participated made her a different person, in a positive way.  She admits that four years ago, after her husband passed away, it took a while for her daughter to persuade her to start socialising in the Centre.

“I was at first terrified. But once I came here, I would never leave. Seriously. I was thinking: ‘I am not for that, I cannot do that, I stopped working long ago, I will not be able to fit in’. I was still mourning; I did not feel like singing and talking. I was only sitting, thinking about problems and crying. I feel I am reborn ever since I started coming here. I am a different person.”

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