Test and Learn: The unexpected stigma of kindness?

Raat Di Roti is a Touchstone Sikh Elders project that brings together Punjabi-speaking families and isolated older people to foster cross-generational relationships.

Once a fortnight volunteers share an evening meal, or raat di roti, in their home or in an elder's home.

It was hoped that the ritual of eating together would foster a sense of community but that hasn’t always been the case.

A number of elderly people have opted out of Raat Di Roti due to the stigma attached to being fed by someone else. In 2016 nine older people opted out of the project for this very reason.

A couple said: “We do not want to go to a volunteer’s house to eat food.  We have food in our own house. The volunteer can eat our food with us.” 

Some elders said they felt uncomfortable participating in the project because their neighbours and friends may see it as a form of charity as they’re in receipt of free food.  

One such beneficiary said: “I like the connection but I fear the neighbours and friends might think I am getting charity. I much rather come to a group and eat with others and that way we are all in the same situation.”

This was the case whether the elders ate at the volunteer’s house or within the elder’s own home.

Similar misconceptions have led some participants to opt out of the project even though they were quite happy to participate in other group activities where lunch was provided. 

A participant said: “My sister-in-law is visiting from India, and whilst she is here with us, we do not want the volunteer to bring food. She can still come but eat our food.”

He continued: “I don’t want my relatives to think I’m getting charity. They will mock and indicate I’ve not earned enough for my own food. They will not understand that eating together is something special.”

Many Punjabi-speaking older people who fear this stigma have still said they want to eat with the Raat Di Roti project worker. 

They said it was important to maintain this connection as it will help them to come back to Raat Di Roti at some future date and reconnect with the volunteers once they’ve overcome the stigma attached.  

Learning what doesn't work so well, and why, is just as important as learning what does. Time to Shine uses this crucial information to improve its projects, inform future third-sector work and help shape governmental policy.

Raat Di Roti Project, Sikh Elders Service (Touchstone)

Scroll down for more content