Helping Muslim Elders  


Toronto Star, Ontario ed.
Saturday, May 12, 2001

Reh'ma Foundation fills cultural void

Jean Ally knows what it takes to care for the elderly.

"My mother had Alzheimer's and my father became a quadriplegic after an accident."

Until her mother died in 1994 and her father in 1996, Ally cared for them full time for several years. While it would have eased the burden to put them in a nursing home, her siblings and father objected.

So with the help of her siblings, social services and a nurse who assisted with her mother, Ally assumed responsibility for their well being, giving up her job with the family business to do so.

"The burn-out factor in situations like mine is incredible," says Ally, 50, looking back on that period.

The North York resident could have used the services of Reh'ma, a new organization geared to the needs of elders in the Muslim community.

"Elders are valuable members of society and Reh'ma will work towards providing culturally sensitive services aimed at achieving our physical, psychological and spiritual well-being," explains Rafi Mustafa, a Scarborough resident and volunteer with the organization.

"Seniors' homes and institutions should be the last resort. I'd like to see Reh'ma create an environment where the immediate and extended family, plus friends and volunteers, can pitch in to support our seniors."

According to Ally, who volunteers with Reh'ma, the organization can fill the void left by mainstream groups.

"There are dietary, emotional and spiritual requirements that mainstream organizations cannot fulfil, although they are extremely helpful in terms of physical assistance.

"For example, my father wanted to take a shower every day in order to pray, which was difficult for the caregivers to understand."

There are approximately 39,000 Muslim seniors living across the GTA. They represent "the fastest growing, yet most overlooked segment of our community," according to Munir Jan, treasurer of Reh'ma.

Funded primarily by private donations from within the community, the foundation operates on the energy of volunteers and a board of directors.

Currently, there are two drop-in social centres, one in Mississauga and one in Richmond Hill, where a large number of the Muslim community lives. Seniors can spend the day there, playing cards, praying together and having meetings and refreshments.

Reh'ma's founders did research and consulted with Muslim community leaders, Jan explains. "We discovered that Muslim elders (like other ethnic communities) suffer from isolation, lack of information,
 low self-esteem, alienation and depression u in turn leading to the deterioration of physical and mental health.  So we realized that immediate action was necessary."

As a result, Reh'ma was established as a non-profit organization, with support from The Don Mills Foundation for Seniors Inc. and the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens Organizations.

Jean Ally has her own ideas about the role Reh'ma can play.

"I'd like to see Reh'ma accomplish more visits to Muslim seniors in their own homes to take the strain off their family members and give them a much-needed break."

Reh'ma volunteer Najia Saeed visited many organizations and seniors' homes before joining the group.

"I discovered that the cultural and religious needs of Muslim elders are very different to the mainstream and if we wish to address those specific needs, then we need an organization like Reh'ma," says Saeed, in her late 50s. "We are all heading towards old age faster than we like, so we have to face up to reality."

For further information on Reh'ma, call 416-391-1609 or visit the Web site at www.rehma.org. We discovered that Muslim elders suffer from isolation, lack of information, low self-esteem, alienation and depression u in turn leading to the deterioration of physical and mental health.'


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