Taking care of all the oumas and oupas

The grandparents enjoyed some company and attention.

A Sanddrift woman has started a non-profit that is stretching out a caring hand to the elderly and encouraging people to “adopt an ouma or oupa”.

Volunteers from Michelle Cancino’s Families for Lonely Grandparents run errands for the elderly, help them pay for their monthly groceries or simply spend time with them.

Ms Cancino first recognised the plight of the elderly when an old woman knocked on her door for food on Christmas morning in 2009.

“It bothered me so much. It was just so sad. I spoke to my mother, and she told me if I really wanted an ‘eye opener’ I should visit Ysterplaat where many elderly people were struggling,” said Ms Cancino.

Taking her mother’s advice, Ms Cancino went door to door in Ysterplaat and Brooklyn asking if there were seniors who needed help.

She was overwhelmed by the response and came across elderly people needing help with everything from getting prescription glasses and dentures to needing transport to clinics. Her “motherly instincts” kicked in and she was soon running errands and visiting scores of seniors a month.

“I wanted to be hands on. I found out about pensions and what these people were spending on rent. No one can afford to live on a government pension and pay for rent and food.

“There are so many other things they need the money for like medication, glasses, dentures, adult diapers. The list carries on,” she said.

She shows a small notebook she used to write down names and addresses as well as what their needs were. She pages through the frail-looking book, each page filled with notes, numbers and more.

Deciding to be the voice for this marginalised community she started a Facebook page making their needs known on a public platform and urging people to help where they could.

“That year, I threw a Christmas party for about 12 of them and they had a ball. Our mission is to make sure no senior spends their birthday or Christmas alone,” she said.

The organisation has helped seniors as far away as Pretoria. Ms Cancino recalls a senior who lost everything when her flat burnt down in Pretoria. People learnt of the woman’s ordeal on the Families for Lonely Grandparents Facebook page and started donating things to help her.

Ms Cancino has also started a meals on wheels project aimed at feeding hungry seniors. At R68 a month, people can help an elderly person get a hot meal twice a week.

Ms Cancino said she was taught to share by her own “ouma”.

“We grew up sharing everything with everyone and with friends. Manners, respect and compassion. Those are the three reasons we are on this planet. We are not here for ourselves, we are here to help others,” she said.

Families for Lonely Grandparents are planning events for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day this year and need sponsorship for transport, money and gifts.

“The more sponsors and members we have, the more seniors we will be able to help, as they cannot live on their meagre pensions, and many are depressed and lonely.

“I want to bring happiness into their lives. Some have outlived their loved ones and others have been forgotten by their loved ones.

“I would love families to adopt an ouma or oupa whether they are living in the area or far away. Whether they visit for an hour or take them on weekends. The attention, effort and love means so much to them,” said Ms Cancino.

For more information about the organisation email Ms Cancino at sunshineniki1@gmail.com or go to the Facebook page Families for Lonely Grandparents.