Zdena Šarić runs Bosnian association Naš most, which works on social inclusion of elderly people through art. Photo by Armin Durgut
Zdena Šarić runs Bosnian association Naš most, which works on social inclusion of elderly people through art. Photo by Armin Durgut

Being Old during Covid-19 is Less Scary with Art

Naš most, which works on social inclusion of elderly people through art in Zenica, is participating in this year's Tandem Western Balkans, with a project targeting the elderly population in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, two countries that have taken the most radical approach to combat the new coronavirus: locking the seniors into their homes, as Zdena Šarić tells in this story.

Being old has never been easy. And during Covid-19, it has become at least double as hard.

Since March 20, when Bosnian authorities imposed movement restrictions on its elderly population forbidding them from leaving their homes, many seniors of the city of Zenica have become overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and depression. The organisation which I run and volunteer for, Naš most Zenica association, was for a long time one of the few places in the city where elderly people could hang out, socialise and have fun. With the new regulations set due to the pandemic, even Naš most’s space in the city centre has become unreachable since mid-March.

One of Zdena's paintings created in isolation.
One of Zdena's paintings created in isolation.

That’s why I have decided to create a Facebook-based creative challenge for its members and everyone else who has been struggling to preserve their mental health during the lockdown. The challenge simply requires participants to take a photo of their artwork created during isolation, upload it to Facebook and “challenge” another person (or more) to do some art or craftwork of their own and in that way continue the “challenge.” It’s a very basic activity but it was practically the only thing we could do when we are all locked in our homes.

Luckily enough, most of Naš most’s members are Facebook users, which has helped the members to stay connected to each other and motivate one another to paint, draw or sew at their homes, thus trying to hold on to their painting brushes as salvation from depression.

It’s also a blessing that we have the internet. Naš most’s members (most of them over 60 years old) belong to the age group and social group which is suffering the most during the pandemic. Seniors are the ones who are hit the hardest. So we wanted to use social media to motivate each other to spend less time watching depressing news and instead, explore our creativity.

I myself have created six paintings during the first three weeks of “home arrest,” as I call the obligatory home isolation for elderly people. Having the diagnosis of cancer and asthma, I am well aware that my life is at risk, so painting during these days has helped me to relax and forget about reality.

But the reality of seniors in my society is indeed beyond shameful. Most of the Bosnian senior population lives on the edge of poverty and is socially excluded. Pensions are low, and the country rarely provides meaningful social services to elderly people. Most of the people of third age spend their lives in their homes, isolated from social activities, lonely and depressed. The situation got much worse during the lockdown.

I respect the rules and understand that my life is at stake but I think that the moves of Bosnian authorities towards locking down the seniors without providing any help or assistance are – at least – disrespectful. This pandemic has perhaps exposed what everyone already knew but no one talked about – that being old in Bosnia is the worst punishment you can get.

However, I feel very privileged to be able to paint during these hard times and I wish for more and more elderly people to start doing the same.