December 3, 2009

For FSU Elderly, Times as Difficult as Ever

Faina relies on services provided through the local JDC-supported Hesed welfare center to supplement her nutrition, medical care, and other critical needs. Without this help, she would be forced to make unthinkable choices.

Born the youngest of four children in 1937 in Minsk, Belarus, Faina has suffered many tragedies: her brother was killed and her father injured in World War II; Faina’s mother was evacuated to the East with her three children, first to the Volga region and from there to Kazakhstan. During this difficult time, they had very little income to live on. Her sister managed to find a job—but was paid with soap, not money. The family was often on the brink of starvation.

Faina married at age 26 and gave birth to a son. She worked in sales while her husband painted houses for a living. Faina’s son died in a drowning accident in 1996 and her husband passed away several years later.

Today Faina lives alone in one 17-square-meter room in Minsk on a monthly pension of $117. She has a long list of health challenges, including hypertension, heart disease, gastric ulcer, and gall bladder disease. Like many of her contemporaries who receive help from Hesed, Faina has endured suffering in her 73 years that is almost unimaginable. She’s been victimized by war, illness, and poverty.

Despite what she has overcome, Faina is living some of the hardest times of her life today. She can’t get by on her monthly budget, which exists without any social safety net: rent $12, electricity $6, phone $1, medicines $22, personal hygiene $6. She can’t afford transportation (she rarely leaves her flat) or clothing (she never purchases new garments). A precipitous rise in prices due to inflation or economic downturn, an unexpected need for an additional medicine, or any other unplanned expense could spell disaster. From the remaining $70 in her pension, Faina owes $10.50/month for a washing machine she purchased (her first washing machine ever), leaving $59.50 for a month’s worth of food, which falls more than $15 short of costs for the basic standard diet for an elderly person (as determined by the Hesed in Minsk together with three local geriatric dieticians).

To make up for the shortfall, Faina simply buys less of everything, including fish and flour, bread and butter, chicken, cheese, and potatoes. She uses buckwheat (kasha) as a replacement for healthier options which she can’t afford. Faina even skips meals. And she relies on JDC to save her from total deprivation.

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