Filled with excitement, Grandma Kit led us to the rooftop garden, showing us the eggplants and lime she planted herself. Though she is already 96 years old, Grandma Kit remembers vividly the time when she first arrived at The Salvation Army Kam Tin Residence for Senior Citizens.
During the pandemic, the Kam Tin Residence for Senior Citizens began to adopt the de-institutionalisation module of The Eden Alternative®, in which they allow their elderly residents to take charge of their daily routines so they can be more autonomous. They also encourage residents to be in contact with animals and plants. Grandma Kit made the best of the quarantine period to teach herself gardening with resources on her mobile phone. She learned many gardening skills and built this one-of-a-kind Eden Garden with her fellow residents and the staff.
According to the Census and Statistics Department, the population of Hong Kong aged 65 or above reached 1.52 million in 2022, accounting for about 20% of the total population, so Hong Kong has officially became a “super-aged society”. It is estimated that senior citizens will account for over 30% of the population in 2037, meaning that on average 1.7 working people will have to take care of 1 senior citizen.
Grandma Kit spent most of her childhood living out of a suitcase with her mother. When she was a child, as the war was about to break out, her mother escaped Panyu to go to Hong Kong with her. Her mother worked as a domestic helper for a businessman, while Grandma Kit worked at the businessman’s fabric factory as an assistant. She observed closely as her mother worked hard for the happiness and well-being of the family.
Though she experienced poverty and war, Grandma Kit is still optimistic and believes that one should not take happiness for granted and we have to strive for happiness ourselves. Now that her children and grandchildren have grown up, she is now carefree and does not want to burden her family. So with the help of social workers, she began to look for an elderly home.
‘We looked at a few nursing homes, but they were not satisfactory. Then we found the Kam Tin Residence for Senior Citizens. It is secluded and close to nature. So I applied for it without telling the family,’ said Grandma Kit. At first, the family was worried that she couldn’t adapt to the new environment. But she got along very well with her fellow residents and the staff, so the family felt at ease.
In this late stage of her life, the Kam Tin Residence for Senior Citizens is Grandma Kit’s second home, where she takes on her second life.
‘When some plants don’t bloom, I will do some research online. I will make the arrangement to alternate between eating apples and bananas and then use the skins of the fruits as fertilisers.’Grandma Kit turned on her mobile to show us her research. The plants in the garden, the turtle pond, and other parts of the rooftop garden are the cooperative efforts of the senior residents and the staff.
To Grandma Kit, this is more than a nursing home, but a real home that she treasures. She often jokes that she wishes to help with the cleaning and cooking if possible, because she is part of the family. ‘We should treasure each and every day. What I treasure most is this Residence and my relationships with everyone here.
Building a Dream Home Together
In 2019, The Salvation Army sent some staff to Australia to study the service module and experience of The Eden Alternative®. Through staff training and environmental improvement, the Kam Tin Residence for Senior Citizens began to adopt the principles of the Alternative in 2020.
As we grow old, our physical fitness, reaction speed, and cognitive functions would gradually decline, the elderly often need others to help with their daily lives. As a result, they might lose their sense of autonomy and would feel anxious and lack self-confidence. On the other hand, The Eden Alternative® is meant to be led by the elderly, that they would cooperate with the nursing home staff to design an ideal living environment so they can choose their preferred lifestyle. Through building the rooftop garden, the elderly can be in contact with plants and animals. They sometimes co-organise events with the neighbouring The Salvation Army Kam Tin Nursery School so the senior residents can interact and play with children, which helps eliminate their sense of loneliness and helplessness.
Ms. YinLing Chan, the superintendent of the Kam Tin Residence for Senior Citizens, shared that since they began to adopt The Eden Alternative® module, she noticed that the residents and the staff at the Residence become more joyful, enjoying their bonding. Not long ago, Grandma Kit suffered the pain of bereavement. The staff spent a lot of time accompanying and talking with her, and as a result, she gradually came out of this dark period of her life.‘I have been spending more time with Grandma Kit than my family. She is like my good partner. We talk about everything, from the affairs in the Residence to personal feelings and interesting daily events.’
She believes The Eden Alternative® is a sustainable and non-stop journey. Though they are still at a budding stage, she hopes to continue to learn and move forward with their senior residents, improving the Residence’s services and environment and creating an ideal Eden home for the elderly.
Census and Statistics Department (2020)。Hong Kong Population Projections 2020-2069。https://www.censtatd.gov.hk/en/data/stat_report/product/B1120015/att/B1120015082020XXXXB0100.pdf