5th December 1999

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Their Home

Old and crumbling, St. Margaret's Home needs rebuilding. But where will the old folks go?

By Hiranthi Fernando

Ten senior citizens, all ladies, spend a peaceful retired life at the St. Margaret's Home off St. Michael's Road, Polwatte. The Home, run by the Sisters of St. Margaret, accommodates widows of clergymen and elder ladies who have rendered invaluable services as teachers and in other capacities such as in church activities. The ladies who are mostly pensioners, pay a nominal amount for their board and lodging.

The Elders' Home is housed in a large two-storey building, which is said to be about 130 years old and formerly a coffee store. Old and crumbling, the building cannot be repaired. It needs to be rebuilt to provide the senior citizens with better amenities. "It is difficult for the ladies to go up and down the stairs. They need a lift,"said Sr. Lucy Agnes, Superior of the Sisters of St. Margaret, an order of Anglican nuns. "We also need to have better toilets for them. However, we are unable to make alterations to this building as it is in a bad state. Many of the ladies in the Home are concerned about where they will live while the Home is rebuilt and as to when they will be able to return to what has been their home for so many years.

"We have assured them that nothing will be done until they find temporary accommodation but the ladies still worry," she said.

"I will live with a friend in Kandana while the new Home is built," Inez Senaris said. She hopes to return to the Home when it is ready. Inez worked at S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia for 23 years looking after the small boys in the boarding. Since her only daughter lives in Australia, she has been at St. Margaret's since she retired in 1987. "I have five grandchildren," Inez said proudly. Inez used to occupy herself doing crochet. She also helped at the Ladies' League, once a week distributing coloured thread. Since she had a fall recently, she uses a walking stick and is unable to get around freely.

"I was at the Ratmalana Blind School," said Ellen who is blind. "I studied and taught there for over 40 years." She taught Music and English and conducted a special class for those who were too old for the Kindergarten when they came in. "Ellen is very musical. She plays the organ for us and also sings in the church choir," Sr. Lucy Agnes said.

Although the Elders' Home was established in 1966, St. Margaret's Home and Convent go back a long way. The Sisters of St. Margaret first arrived in Sri Lanka in 1887. They moved into the former coffee store close to the Church of St. Michael and All Angels. A girls' home, started in the Pettah for poor children in 1886, was moved to the more peaceful environment of Polwatte and renamed St. Margaret's Home. For many years, St. Margaret's Home sheltered countless needy children until they were moved to the St. John's Home in Moratuwa.

While being in charge of Bishop's College, the Sisters also opened St. Mary's School, for children from less affluent homes. It was later taken over by the government in the early sixties. St. Margaret's still provides free board and lodging to school-leavers from the St. John's Home as well as other needy children. The Sisters send them for various pre-vocational training courses and try to help them find employment.

A hostel for working girls of low income is located above the Elders'Home in the old building. The numbers are now being reduced in preparation for the repair work. The hostel will be re-established on the top floor of the proposed new building.

"We plan to build three floors. The first two for senior citizens and the third floor for the working girls," Sr. Lucy Agnes said. "We have also planned for a lift for the elders. We have to find Rs.30 million to complete the building. We hope to do the ground floor at least so that our ladies can come back soon. We are now starting a fund raising campaign."

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