‘The Social Paathshala’: A Mumbai-Based Young Woman’s Initiative to ‘E-mpower’ the Elderly

The era of internet and social media that we live in has impacted the way we live our lives, and made many aspects of it easier. However, there are many who struggle on a daily basis to get a hang of how to navigate the internet and the various apps on offer, especially senior citizens.

In order to address this problem, last year, Mahima Bhalotia, who previously worked with Mariott International, launched ‘The Social Paathshala’ – an initiative to teach elderly online tools and improve their digital knowledge to “e-mpower” them and make them self-reliant. Initially taught in ‘offline mode’, the lockdown forced the initiative to be taken online.

Mahima Bhalotia, founder and trainer at The Social Paathshala. Photo: special arrangement.

“I started this initiative with my mother and a friend last year alongside my job, like a side-hustle, but I officially took it up full-time in May 2020,” Bhalotia said.

Where did the idea come from?

“Last year, when one of my colleagues told me that her parents don’t know how to use Uber, it made me wonder that there might be many others who might not know how to operate Uber, Ola and other apps – due to which they have to seek help from their children, making them dependent. The idea started from there,” she said.

Later, the lockdown only worsened the situation for the elderly as many did not know how to do everything online – from buying groceries to connecting with their loved ones. “It made sense for me to do this full-time during the lockdown as a lot of people needed help,” she said.

Also read: ‘Feeling Suffocated’: Woes of the Elderly During Lockdown

“Till date, I have taught around 45 people – most of whom have been victims of online frauds. Right now, I am taking group and personalised sessions. I take group sessions with a number of NGOs and other initiatives that aim to help the elderly,” she added.

The Social Paathshala recently collaborated with NGOs such as HUM communities and Yeh Mera India to conduct a session on how to stay safe from online fraud.

As part of the current initiative, they conduct online sessions and teach in two languages – Hindi and English. They not only help the students adapt to the ‘new normal’, but also clarify their doubts at a mutually decided convenient time over a call.

The challenges

“The problem that I initially faced is the trust factor. This is why I chose to spread the word via newspaper as that is seen as a trusted, authentic source by the older generation,” Bhalotia said.

Initially, people had their doubts about the course. But after a trial class, many became more comfortable and continued to take up the classes.

Also read: Ageing in the Corona Age

However, she feels a lack of personal touch during online sessions.

“This idea is a year old but this [online sessions] prevented me from starting this in the month of March. The first thing that came to mind was that they [elderly] would think twice before trusting someone online, but then my mother encouraged me and I started off. Soon after, I started getting 15-20 enquiries per day, however, most of them used to say: ‘Madam, aap please lockdown ke baad ghar pe aake humein classes dein’,” she said.

“I started this initiative with a very philanthropic point of view. But a lot of people didn’t feel comfortable taking classes without paying for them, so I decided to charge a minimal fee of Rs 99 for group sessions and a little bit more for personal sessions,” she said.

She has restricted the classes only to weekends – she takes three sessions per day – because a lot of people have office throughout the week. 

The way ahead

In the future, the team hopes to reach out to senior citizens across the country.

“My vision is to expand it [initiative] across India in terms of taking classes physically in a community hall and reaching out to organisations dealing with senior citizens pan India for the same. I want to reach out to more and more cities in the future,” she said.

In addition, the team also aspires to continue taking online classes and doesn’t want to discontinue it even after the pandemic is over.

“I want to make sure that all of these sessions are online because in the future holding a group session will be extremely challenging, so I want more and more people to understand how to come online and take these sessions. My wish is to be able to reach more and more people,” she said.

You can reach out to Mahima Bhalotia at +91 9930 161 538 or on Instagram @thesocialpaathshala 

All images provided by Mahima Bhalotia.