In Aden’s Rest Home, the Elderly Live as One Family

Eslah Saleh
As with many other Middle Eastern countries, homes for the elderly in Yemen are seen as symbols of people’s failure or inability to take care of their ageing parents. But these structures fill a gap left by lack of resources of societies to serve everyone. Six years after a tragedy at one such home in Aden, the institution offers a safe place for Yemenis to reside in relative tranquillity as they reach old age.
Senior citizens enjoy a game of dominoes at Aden’s only home for the elderly. © Mahmoud al-Filastini / Arabia Felix Magazine

The rest home, founded by Mother Teresa in 1953 and run by a charity, was transformed to a site of carnage in early March 2016 when armed men led an attack that left 16 dead, including four Christian nuns who worked there.

The elderly residents of the home were unharmed, but Indians, Yemenis, and Ethiopian staff were among the other victims.

The home, now managed by the Ministry of Social Development and surrounded by high walls, provides shelter and care to nearly 60 men and women from across the country, aged between 50 and 100.

“Priority is given to the elderly who are marginalised or displaced,” said Ali Aidarous, 49, the home’s director.


A Shelter’s Challenges

The home welcomes new residents as soon as a member of their family makes a request. A medical exam follows to determine an individual’s dietary and medical needs.

“This is my real family.”

Most of the elderly suffer from chronic illnesses, dementia, and other memory disorders, requiring treatment at private clinics. The management can rarely afford these additional expenses, so many of these patients are turned away.

Kefah Abdullah, 59, lived with relatives at a young age, but did not marry, something she now regrets.

“My relatives are tired of supporting me, so they brought me here,” she said, adding that she missed having children to help her later in life.

Yet some residents have come to the rest home because their children can’t afford to take care of their parents. They blame the situation on Yemen’s economic crisis.

Sadiq Yahya, 63, said it was humiliating to be left at the Aden nursing home by his children. But now he looks on the bright side.

“We can play chess and carrom (another board game) and watch TV together,” he said, laughing as he gestured toward his new friends.

The residents are housed in three wards, with access to a TV room, dining hall, kitchen, laundry room, and bathrooms. The property includes a farm with sheep, gazelles, peacocks, and other fowl, along with olive, lemon, and henna trees.

As the residents find comfort in each other’s company, Yahya’s relationship with them grows stronger every day.

“This is my real family,” he said.

Relatives are welcome to visit by arrangement, which gives the elderly an additional boost of comfort and support, said Ali Aidarous.


Financial Constraints

Over 30 staff work at the home besides the director, including a financial officer, supervisor, pharmacist, nurses, and cleaners, along with laundry, kitchen and maintenance workers.

But wages are low: nurses’ monthly salaries average 35,000 rials (about $140), and there are no funds for exercise machines to support physical therapy or fitness. The operating budget is likewise insufficient to obtain diesel for the generator, which is crucial in summer months.

“The home also faces difficulties in purchasing medicine, diapers, and food,” said Aidarous.

Despite these difficulties, the Aden nursing home staff is determined to offer its residents everything within their grasp, just as one would in a big family. The sense of solidarity in their coexistence is unbreakable. Knowing they’re in good company, the elderly citizens are grateful the home can meet their basic needs.


* All the names of the residents have been changed.

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