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“I’m sad and happy,” Dr Santosh Kumar OAM told Indian Link about his Queen’s Birthday honour this year.
He lost his wife of 57 years, Bala, just over a month ago.
“One solace is that she knew though, as we got notification before she passed. And really, equal share goes to her in this achievement.”
Dr Kumar, 85, was facilitated for his service to the Indian community of Victoria.
Although he has been serving the community in various capacities since he arrived in this country in 1970, he became widely known ever since he retired and took on the cause of seniors.
Dr Kumar saw a productive academic career in mathematics and operations research at RMIT, at the University of Melbourne, and also at universities in Zimbabwe and South Africa. He produced academic papers prolifically, and guided research nationally and internationally, his last supervised PhD coming at age 83.
“I never really gave up academic work, and have kept myself purposefully occupied twenty years after officially retiring. There hasn’t been a dull moment.”
The passion for his own healthy and active aging has now taken him to advocacy, as he encourages others in his age group, and talks to policymakers about utilising the skillset and experience of seniors.
A driving force in Dr Kumar’s community work has been to highlight that seniors are an underused resource, and many of them can and want to continue contributing to society.
“Are seniors a resource, or a waste to the country?” he asked. “I feel seniors have never been appreciated – the only discussions about them are in aged care. People retire at about 65 or so, and have a good twenty or more years of active contribution. With professional backgrounds behind us, we are a resource that must be harnessed. Why is there no infrastructure designed for this?”
He added, seniors who are keen, those that have a ‘get-up-and-go’ personality have forged their own pathways, but many others who may want to help, or have the skills to, are left disillusioned.
Perhaps seniors are to blame themselves, he mused. “Many of us believe it is now time to take rest, and don’t ask for much.
But age is just a number. I myself changed countries at 59, moving to Africa for a few years, took up line dancing at 79, and was still academically involved well into my 80s!”
Perhaps in play here is Dr Kumar’s professional expertise in operations research – a discipline that employs advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions.
Dr Kumar founded the Northern Region Indian Seniors Association NRISA as a platform for seniors to get together regularly, interact socially, participate in entertainment and light exercise, and take in information sessions on topics such as health, elder rights and finance. But Dr Kumar’s enthusiasm for more purposeful engagement of the seniors in community, perhaps even senior employment, took him to larger platforms, such as Northern Federation of Ethnic Seniors Club, and Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria. Through these agencies, he has been talking to authorities at the state and federal levels about harnessing the valuable resource of those in their senior years.
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