For any country the true wealth is in the wisdom and experience of its elders. The Hindu Elders Foundation, a division of the Hindu Council of New Zealand Inc, organised the first NZ Hindu Elders Conference at Hindu Heritage Centre, Mangere, Auckland on October 3. The theme of the conference was “Old is Gold”.
The guests and dignitaries were welcomed in traditional Hindu way by placing a tilak on their forehead by 7 year old Sakshi Hegde, and were honoured with saffron scarfs by Daksha Patel. The conference started with lighting of the lamps by special guests. Maori Elder, Bubbles Munro, blessed the conference with a Maori karakia (prayer & blessing). Smt Meena Pongde recited a Hindu prayer.
Welcoming the participants to the historic event, the conference coordinator Shri Pravin Patel said the aim of the conference was “to facilitate and empower the community so that the Hindu elders live with confidence, and be productive and participating citizens of New Zealand”. He emphasised that it was the first step towards building a dynamic elders network with other like-minded organisations. About 10 senior citizen groups participated in the conference and gave their valuable inputs. They expressed their sincere gratitude for organising such a conference. The elders were overjoyed with the professionalism with which the conference was conducted. Hindu Elders Foundation, Shanti Niwas Charitable Trust, Waitakere Indian Association, NZ Tamil Senior Citizens Association, Shakthi Seniors, South East Auckland Senior Citizens Association, NZ Indian Senior Citizen Association, Waikato Indian Senior Citizen Association and Bharatiya Samaj participated in the conference.
More than 160 delegates participated in the conference. Three parliamentarians graced the conference with their presence. Shri Ross Robertson, Opposition spokesperson for Senior Citizens, Shri Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi representing the Government and Dr Rajen Prasad participated. The conference marked a significant awakening for the Hindu elders and the Government agencies, community and business leaders who attended the one-day event.
The inauguration ceremony followed by the panel discussions and the various workshops addressing the core issues pertaining to the elders were very well brought out into the light for deliberations. The discussion panel “Government agencies” assistance to Hindu elders’ provided an opportunity for the elders to network, and discuss their concerns/issues directly with government agencies and other service providers. The discussion panel was chaired by Judge Ajit Swaran Singh Manukau District Court. The government agencies that participated in the panel were Human Rights Commission (Crown Agency), Ministry of Social Development (MSD), Manukau City Council, Age Concern and Mental Health Foundation, and Victoria University of Wellington.
Judge Ajit Singh said language difficulties often lead to uncertainties during Court and other legal proceedings; for instance – an elder may be ‘caught in a spot’ when taking oath because he is unable to understand what is being asked.
Rohan Jaduram mentioned that Human Rights Framework addressed vulnerability of older people in society, ensures that their ‘voices’ are elicited and heard. Jennifer Janif from Ministry of Social Development said the Ministry has certain stipulated criteria, which needs to be met by the stakeholders in order to obtain appropriate assistance. Nimmi Bedi, Community Advisor of Manukau City Council said that those who know how to seek help and access services are here and are at every other Community forum to learn more, empower themselves and take responsibility for their own lives as much as possible.