Bangkok (AsiaNews) - The Diocese of Chaiyaphum, in northeastern Thailand, has undertaken a project for senior citizens in a country that is increasingly aging (like in Europe) because of a declining birth rate. Bishop Joseph Chusak Sirisut, who is the behind the initiative, enlisted the support of the St Camillo Foundation to build a nursing home for the elderly called 'Ratchasima Home'. Originally inspired by the Jubilee of the Elderly celebrated on 17 September 2000, an initiative dear to the Blessed John Paul II, the project is now reality, albeit one still struggling to provide care of the elderly because of economic and social challenges.
"Seniors in Chaiyaphum are forced to go to St Mary's Hospital for assistance," said Mgr Sirisut. Here they have to "pay a monthly fee of more than 30,000 Bath" (slightly more than a thousand dollars) for care in a facility that has few beds. Since not all seniors are sick, a nursing home would reduce costs by one-third compared to those of a hospital," the prelate explained.
In 2012, this led to the construction of a senior citizen centre called "Ratchasima Home" in an area of over 28,000 m2. The partnership with the St Camillus Foundation was crucial. The latter joined the initiative after the bishop met Fr Giovanni Contarin, head of the Catholic Committee on HIV/AIDS in Thailand, which donated 20 million of Bath (almost US$ 700,000).
The project is divided into three phases, the first of which will be completed by the end of next year and will provide fifty beds for the elderly. The second and third phases will depend on donations and locally and internationally raised funds.
The initial design consists of six two-storey buildings over a total area of 11,000 m2. It will be open to seniors "of any religion or way of life," said Mgr Sirisut, president of the Bishops' Commission for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue.
According to the National Economics and Social Development Board, seniors constitute 11.2 per cent of Thailand's 64 million people, one of the highest proportions in all of Asia. Thus, Thailand is an increasingly aging society. In 2008, seniors numbered 7.4 million. By 2020, they are expected to be17.7 million.
Suicide is a particularly serious problem in this age group, especially in the 70 to 74 group, followed by those between 80 and 84. Psychophysical stress, death of a spouse, loneliness and lack of hope are among the reasons that lead to suicide with seniors feeling as "a burden" for their children.