What do we want to accomplish through this project in Sri Lanka?

After long discussions in many days and months, we came up with four core goals for this project as follows:

1. Developing the culturally appropriate architectural design and care program

2. Applying the concept of aging in community

- Developed countries : creating intentional community

- Developing countries : maintain and strengthen the existing community to care for elders

3. Learning about the social value of elder care in Sri Lanka

4. Application of the lessons learned from the past experience of long term care for elders

First, as a group of young researchers in the field of Architecture, we felt the social responsibility of developing culturally appropriate design scheme for Sri Lankan. This is actually so much more complex than one may think. It requires strong understanding of not only the local architecture, but also lifestyle, demographical and social situation, and most importantly economical capability. I am sure that this learning process will never end....

Second, I personally wanted to explore the potential application of concept of "aging in community" which is an emerging idea to care for elders in developped countries. To transfer this idea in different countries, we made adjustment and defined the concept to fit with Sri Lanka. In the USA or Japan, aging in community is considered to be an "intentional community" where people would create. However, we thought it was very important to harvest the strong culture of inter-dependent lifestyle in the existing Sri Lankan community, and maintain and even strengthen the positive aspect with the appropriate housing support.

Third, we should learn the social value of elder care from Sri Lanka. This action will be essential to this project, however, more importantly it would be a valuable investment that we can learn and bring back to developed part of world.

The last goal was that we wanted to avoid making the same mistakes that developed part of world already experienced, such as hospital like long term care environment, neglect, isolation, or other negative histories of elderly care. We believe that it is our responsibility to inform our mistakes for them to avoid, so that elders in Sri Lanka will be treated with respect.

I will report the current aging situation in Sri Lanka in the next post.


Objective of Sri Lanka Project

Since I was not able to upload our presentation about the Sri Lanka, I decided to introduce the process and the current situation of our project in this blog in next several weeks. I hope you will enjoy getting to know our ideas and give us your feedback!

First, I would like to share the purpose of our project. There are two main goals that we would like to achive through this project.

1. Exploring the possibility of creating the age valued community in rural village in Sri Lanka

2. Exploring the mutual benefits through Information exchange

- developed countries: knowledge of long term care for elderly

- developing countries: social value of elder care

Our world established the paternalistic dynamics/attitude that developped part of world would help developping part of world by providing financial, technical, or other support, and slowly loosing the humble attitude of gratitude toward what we are given. Moreover, we are overlooking the wealth of wisdom and social value that have been sustained for centuries in cultually rich countries. When we try to help developing countries, we should be careful not to impose our idea but sincerely listen to what they really need and how we can be helpful to honor their cultual heritage.

Through studying elder care situation in Japan and the United States, I have learned that what elders are seeking is not "things or money," but much more simple things like happiness, relationship, meaning, or legacy, which cannot be measured by monetary value. I strongly believe that it is the time for us to re-visit traditional way of life that people informally help each other in a community. Since our society has lost the sense of community during the shift to capitalistic society, the developing part of the world can teach us social value of community and the meaning of elder care.

This project aim to explore the concept of "inter-dependency," and attempt to maintain the existing community in developing countries, and also examine what part of traditional community lifestyle can be transfered back to developed part of world, such as Japan and the USA. Most importantly, we would like to carefully think about how we as citizens in developed countries can be helpful to improve life of elders in the world.


Presentation in Montreal

My colleague and I presented the Sri Lanka project in the Interantional conference of aging and design in Montreal last week. Our presentation was well received and generated interesting questions from the audiences. I tried to upload the powerpoint presentation in this blog but I was not successful. Since the presentation will be available in the conference website, I will make a link to the site to make it available for viewers.

I have noticed that the sessions organized by developing part of world attracted less people than the ones done by developed countries in the conference. I do believe that design should be emerged from the cultural value and lifestyle, rather than copying the physical environment from other countries. In order to come up with innovative idea of elder care settings, it does worth for us to look into the developing part of the world to learn about the strong social value and community to care for elders, which may give us better design idea to enable elders to have normalized and enjoyable life style within their community.


Encouraging Words by A Wise Elder

I encountered the quote of Mother Teresa the other day. Every single word of this short description touched my heart and gave me such a great encouragement for what I believe. I felt that this quote perfectly captured the importance of "aging in community" concept. I think it is the time for us to realize that "we must find each other..."

At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.' Hungry not only for bread - but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing - but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks - but homeless because of rejection.

Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat . . . We must find each other.

Mother Teresa


Is Elder Care a Social or Individual Responsibility?

Through working on the Sri Lanka project, I encounter a question that "Is taking care of elder a social responsibility or Individual responsibility?"

Since I have been living in developed countries such as Japan or USA, I tend to look at everything through "my own lens" which is based on what I have known through my life experiences. Talking with people who live and work in developing world, I was often embarrassed myself how narrow minded I became. For example, I was challenged by some people when I indicated that "developed world might fail to provide a quality of life for elders because we created an institution with medical model mindset." They said that "it sounds like an argument from the countries where they can spend time and abundant resources to discuss about the issue. In the places like Sri Lanka, people have to manage with what they can afford, and do not have a time and resources to so." When I heard these comments, I realized that my argument was constructed based on "what we have already have in the developed world where basic social system is put in place to look after elders, such as pension, social security, affordable housings, or residential care."

In the USA, Japan, or European countries, we tried to establish a social system to ensure that elders would be looked after as societal responsibility. In developing countries, however, elder care has been treated as individual/family responsibility because 1) traditional societal value of family care still remain as strong ethical responsibility, 2) their countries/society cannot afford providing elder care in the level that developed countries can offer.

I personally believe that we should always try to find a culturally appropriate balance between the two: Social and Individual responsibility. We should not forget that society consists of individuals, and individuals are part of society, and these two parts are inter-connected.

How can we find the balance between the two to provide a care that elders can live with dignity and happiness? I found it difficult to see "from users' point of views" because we have been unconsiously seeing our surroundings with "our lens." I would like to think further about this issue....


People first or Design first?

I have spoken to my friend who is an industrial designer about designing a chair. During the conversation, he stressed the importance of "knowing how people sit in a chair." Learning about how people sit.... it is much more complex than one can imagine. It requires so much knowledge about people, material, art, culture, or lifestyle to create a simple "comfortable chair" for users. The height of chair and armrest, softness of seating, durability of material, coating of surface, and etc... When we start listing up all the possible considerations to design a "comfortable" chair, it may take countless number of pages to fill. It becomes even more complex when designing "a comfortable chair for general public," because nobody has the same body shape, preferences, and lifestyle.

"Understanding how we sit in a chair is the basic and most important skill to design a comfortable chair for people. The comfortable chairs can also be beautiful"

Through the conversation with my friend, I have learned that industrial designers aim to create products with the approach of "people first." How about designing long term care facilities? How much do we know about the life of elders, staff members, and visitors? Are we putting people first or design first?


Interview with a wise man

I have visited an elder care home located in the beautiful site in Galle Sri Lanka. It was located on the top of the hill, and overlooks gorgeous ocean. I loved the feeling of fresh air, comfortable breeze, and peacefulness of the place. I would like to share the images of this home, and the interview with the person who operates this place.

Magnificent view of ocean from the elder home:

Building of this home:

I asked my driver to video tape our interview. Although he had a good intention to capture some interesting views, it just gave me a bit of dizziness... (you can still listen to our conversation which was quite intriguing.)