House Calls Bring Relief and Dignity to Needy Elderly in Kazahkstan

June 6, 2012


At age 25, Vera is one of the youngest JDC homecare workers assisting needy Jewish elderly in all of the former Soviet Union (FSU), but her compassion and determination belie her age. “My work gives me an amazing opportunity to get to know different people with different backgrounds. It is very rewarding, and I am happy to be able to help every person I meet,” she says.

Vera became a homecare worker last year after graduating from university and struggling to find a job in Kazakhstan’s downturned economy. She was intrigued when a friend described an opportunity at the local Hesed—the JDC-supported community center that provides hunger relief, medical support, and homecare, among other services, to Jews in need. She accepted the position and immediately fell in love with the Hesed staff and with her clients.

Vladimir and Marina, are one of the elderly couples Vera visits every week. “She is just like a daughter to us. She helps out with household chores, cooks, and brings me my favorite newspaper every Friday,” Vladimir says. “I really don’t know what we would do without her.” Vladimir and Marina’s own son immigrated to Israel and their daughter is unable to assist them due to a disability, so the couple is fully dependent on Vera for help with their daily needs.

Vera is one of thousands of homecare workers serving as a lifeline to Jewish elderly throughout the former Soviet Union. Through such dedicated staff and a network of 161 Hesed welfare centers, JDC ensures essential services to the poorest elderly, who cannot survive on their meager pensions alone. These frail seniors would have nowhere else to turn, as in the FSU there is no network of old age homes or other social “security nets” to provide support as people age.

Many of them are clients like Ivan, who lives alone and suffers from degenerating eyesight. A former post office director and a published author, Ivan sticks to a strict daily routine but cannot get by on his own any more. More than the help with cooking, cleaning, and groceries, Ivan is grateful for the companionship and connection to the world beyond his doorstep that Vera brings every time she visits. “Sometimes I feel very lonely, and with age my eyesight is failing me,” says Ivan. “Vera reads to me, talks to me, and accompanies me outside so I can sit on the bench and breath some fresh air. I am very happy that I am not alone.”

Because she enjoys her job so much, Vera is excited to become the new coordinator for the network of homecare workers at her local Hesed. She is looking forward to visiting more elderly clients, beyond her current caseload, to evaluate their needs and functionality, help to track their paperwork, and oversee the staff of homecare workers in their small Kazakh town and its periphery. She is also excited to continue exploring her newfound interest in Jewish culture.

“Vera’s caring seems boundless. She is so organized and responsible; she is quick on her feet and smiles a lot,” Ivan says. “There is something youthful and very special about her … and it helps me remember my youth and lifts my spirits.”

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