If you thought starting & running an orphanage is the biggest challenge, think again!
The Banyan is an NGO based in Chennai that focuses on rescuing, curing and rehabilitating mentally-ill homeless women (primarily). Recently, I went to their Madras Day event, ‘From Madras to Chennai: The Banyan Journey’ and this post is a recollection of the happenings on that day. The above photo shows one side of their simple but thoughtfully designed conference room.
I am familiar with the name of this organization, but I didn’t know what exactly they were doing. It seems, everything started in 1993 when one of the founders saw a homeless mentally-ill woman stranded on the street and (unlike us) did something about it. Thereupon, they rented a small house and now own a fairly large (and well maintained) facility – Adaikkalam. The land was donated by the Government and the funds provided by kind-hearted people. You may call it a Public-Private partnership!
The Banyan is a residential facility where they take in mentally-ill & homeless women, provide them with professional treatment (through psychiatrists occupational therapists, general physicians, etc.), teach them some form of life-support skills (if required) and then (try to) rehabilitate them with their families.
But this center can accommodate only as many people. Hence, they have started other facilities –
- An Out-Patient Center at Nungambakkam ~ For people who don’t need to be admitted.
- Community living project at Kovalam ~ For people who cannot go back to their homes.
- BALM (Banyan Academy of Leadership & Mental Health) ~ Education and training for creating new mental health professionals.
- Night Shelter at Santhome ~ Open transit care and night shelter for homeless men and families.
A few professionals/volunteers from Banyan spoke to us on that day. Note: Photos are random as I am not able to recollect the exact persons. Dr. Kishore, spoke about homeless people in general and how that affects mental health. It seems, one in three homeless people become mentally-ill (some become homeless due to that reason) and most of them do not have access to treatments.
He said that if the ailment is identified and treatment given at an early stage, mental illness can be remedied quickly (like, in a couple of weeks). But many people don’t know that mental illness is a treatable condition or whom to approach. Also, the stigma attached to visiting mental health centers keeps many from doing anything. He felt that a huge (societal) mindset change and awareness is required and mental healthcare should be integrated with primary healthcare (for quicker/accessible treatments).
He insisted on the importance of preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place, as it is economically/practically not feasible to treat them after they are inflicted with some form of advanced mental illness.
The Banyan is one organization that enjoys the support of passionate volunteers. Volunteers can get trained to offer technical services or even non-technical services. Two long-term volunteers RK & Diwakar told us how they used to accompany people who were cured, to reintegrate them with their families (often outside TN). They also help organize fund-raising events.
Other volunteers spoke on how they engage homeless people (on the street), as a part of their street engagement program. They carry food-packets, give it to homeless people, strike a conversation with them and explore how they can help. It seems, people often view them suspiciously and sometimes it took weeks/months to build any trust. They then suggest that people could stay in their Santhome transit care center.
Public can join The Banyan as a volunteer and assist them with their programs or they can help homeless people by themselves. Banyan’s inmates make a few products (like baskets, folders, decorative items, spreads, etc), which people can buy to show their support. Exhibition organizers (or any organization like schools, IT parks, etc) can offer them some space to exhibit their crafts.
I saw a board in their campus – ‘This hall is sponsored by Infosys Foundation’ – Wasn’t I glad to see our corporate segment pitching in with support! Numerous people (including movie stars) have supported The Banyan in different ways. Have a look at one brilliant video made by Trilok/Sharda, Santhosh Sivan & A R Rehman for the Banyan.
The Banyan Movie –