Women’s Day @ The Banyan

On March 8th 2018, Women’s Day was celebrated across our projects with vigour, enthusiasm and passion.

At our Emergency Care and Recovery Centre, we were honoured to have Ms. V Rukmani Priyadarshini, the Superintendent of Puzhal Prison as our special guest. We began the programme with a prayer song, after which some of our long-term residents shared what Women’s day meant to them. Ms. Rukmani shared a story and motivated our clients and residents to do the same.

Clients shared their experiences; stories of hardship, struggle and resilience. These women described what their journey at The Banyan has been like, and how they feel that their lives had been transformed. They expressed their gratitude towards members of the staff that they look up to. The health care workers at the ECRC also were given the opportunity to speak about their jobs, many expressed that the work they are able to do gives meaning to their lives. The event culminated with a presentation of awards, as a token of appreciation, to our clients to celebrating their commendable traits and hard work.

At The Clustered Group Homes, residents put on a fresh original play about mental illness, family and resilience. Five residents from the home performed in this production, that was performed for residents and staff across The Banyan’s Kovalam projects.

The skit dealt with mental illness, homelessness, friends, family and the pros and cons of social media in the modern age.



UPenn Nursing Fellow’s time at The Banyan

Alison Ercole, a psychiatric nurse from the University of Pennsylvania spent the last 3 months at The Banyan as a Global Nursing Fellow, here’s what she had to say about her time with us and what she accomplished:

I have been honoured to study and work at The Banyan over the past 3 months. I am the Global Nursing Fellow at The University of Pennsylvania and came to The Banyan help incorporate nursing concepts into the Diploma in Community Mental Health Programme offered by The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health, that trains many of the NALAM Community Mobilisers that work for The Banyan.


Alison Ercole, Global Nursing Fellow from UPenn led a training session for the NALAM community mobilisers at The Banyan 

The current programme is strong, particularly in the psychological and social aspects of care. The hope is that incorporating more biological (e.g., medical, or nursing) aspects into the bio-psychosocial paradigm, the program will allow for holistic identification of needs, rehabilitation, and ultimately, prevention.


Alison with Case Manager, Kavitha and NALAM mobiliser look over parts of the curriculum


NALAM mobilisers learning how to take vital signs during the training day 

This will not only help the clients The Banyan serves, but also the Community Health Workers by expanding their role and skills. The greater community will benefit as well because more community members will have access to good, comprehensive health care.

We had a training day where I shared some of the new curriculum (vital signs, communicable diseases). It was so much fun to work with the NALAM Mobilisers to maximise their skill set and boost their confidence.

It’s been so hard for me to leave after these short three months because of the great work The Banyan is doing and how welcoming everyone has been; but, it makes me feel good to know that I played a small part in expanding the NALAM Mobiliser’s role as community health leaders.


Learning Centre Annual Day

By Nabiya Ethiraj – Programme Manager (Outreach) Rural Mental Health Programme

The Rural Mental Health Programme initiated learning centres activities 5 years ago to create a platform for socio – economic transformation through academic support. The RMHP now has 9 learning centres in total, in which 4 centres serve tribal children, 3 serve dalit children and rest serve children from a mixed community. In total  420 children are now accessing services through the RMHP learning centre programme.

2 years ago, we began to have annual day celebrations for our learning centres to celebrate the achievements of these children. On our last two annual days we had sports, arts and cultural competitions. But, what we found was that many children went back home with no prizes,  and other children didn’t come forward to participate in the competitions due to  fear of failure.

So, this year we decided to change our annual day celebrations a little. Instead of having competitions,  we gave the children a chance to think about and come up with programme agenda with both theirs and their teacher’s inputs. Some of the children are very good in art, children from the tribal community are very keen to showcase the traditional foods an herbal remedies (e.g. snake bite remedies). So, it was decided that this year our annual day celebration for the learning centre would include an exhibition to showcase art, herbal remedies and plants,  traditional food stalls and craft works.


The artists were able to describe their art pieces, how they made them and what they meant to them. The children who showcased herbal remedies, talked about the importance of those herbs and others spoke about the traditional foods they eat at home.

After the exhibition, all 420 children had the opportunity to showcase their talents through drama, dance and songs. Since it was not competition, everyone participated with no hesitation.

Feedback Shared Regarding Learning Centre Programmes: 

“Wherever we go people will look at us as if we come from some other planet. We always feel excluded from groups. But here, everybody has same chair, same food, same opportunities to express our talents.  I am the first girl from my family to go to school, I believe I will become a good teacher one day and can help my community.  I am very grateful for the help I’m getting for my education.” – A child from Oragadam Learning Centre 

“My children used to stay at home,  they hesitated to talk to others including their classmates and teachers. I was very scared about their future. After they started to come to the learning centre, they started representing the learning centre, and their academic performance also improved. Now I am not scared for their future, I have 100% confident that they will rock in their life. I feel very proud to be their mother.” – A mother from Kovalam Learning Centre 

All attendees to Annual Day were given plants as gifts (vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruits) to decorate & plant in their respective gardens.


A Splash of Colour

The Banyan has always placed its clients at the centre of the therapeutic process. In continuation with that trend, we began working collaboratively to revamp all our centres, to make them more colourful, vibrant and comfortable for our clients.

On March 1st, led by long-time volunteer of The Banyan and world renowned photographer, Christoph Von Toggenburg, we began the #JoyfulBanyan Project.

Colours have a strong impact on the way we feel and perceive the world around us. Research has shown that altering therapeutic environments to make them more vibrant and colourful can have positive psychological impact on residents, particularly in mood. It is critical that residential care centres exude a sense of warmth and friendliness, such that their external surroundings can also facilitate recovery.

Mr. Christoph Von Toggenburg led several discussions with staff, students of The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM) and residents of The Banyan on what helps them feel more at home and comfortable in a mental health centre.

We reimagined our reception space with bright colours and warm lighting. The students embellished the space with illustrations of nature: radiant birds and lush trees.

Upstairs in our terrace, where many of our clients engage in vocational training on a daily basis, they worked on red bricks were transformed into a polychromatic puzzle.


BALM students put the final touches on the tree


AFTER – The reception


AFTER – The reception


AFTER – Terrace

This project will continue for the next 6 months as we reimagine the spaces across our centres, culminating on World Mental Health Day in October. Considering we are working with the Government as technical advisors for mental health centres, we hope that this is one of many ways by which we can be examples of changing the way built environments in mental health centres are created.

The chief guest of this initiation was renowned celebrity photographer G. VenketRam, a long-time supporter and volunteer of The Banyan. We also announced a brand new social media campaign, #1in4 – telling stories of the fierce and resilient individuals we’ve had the opportunity to know, raising awareness on the plight of homeless individuals with mental health issues who emerge from distress with new found strength and fervour for life.

We invite you to participate in this campaign by sharing your personal experiences, encounters, and viewpoints with homelessness, grit and mental illness with the hashtag #1in4 

You can also participate by volunteering your time to help us with the revamp or through any of our other volunteer drives .

For more information contact Akshita or Mrinalini: akshita@thebanyan.org, mrinalini@thebanyan.org


A Shelter Story

By Nikita Prasad – Student Journalist from Asian College of Journalism

Muruggan* is busy painting and repairing a broken chair on the ground floor of The Banyan Open Shelter For Men with Psychosocial Disabilities (co-run with the Corporation of Chennai) at Dooming Kuppam, when his duty nurse calls him out for lunch. With his hands soiled in white paint, he gets up and greets the nurse with a bright smile.  The shelter dog Apu runs to him wagging his tail, he jumps with delight upon seeing his furry friend.

After petting him for a while he says, “I love the food that we get here. Never have I gone to bed empty stomach.”

“He is a big foodie and has always eaten whatever is served in our kitchen. The prospect of food makes him happy”, says Keerthana, a case manager at the shelter.

The man who has slightly matted, thinning grey hair and a short beard was found outside the Santhome Church six months ago, when team members from The Banyan located him and offered him a place in the Open Shelter. In the next two days, he was welcomed him into the shelter as a residential client. ‘Kind City Happy People’ is their street engagement program, through which they build rapport with homeless individuals on the streets, provide them with food and water, and attempt to get the person to come receive services from the shelter. 

Muruggan told them that he used to work in Velankadu and had a brother who lived near the crematorium there as well. However, The Banyan workers were unable to trace his address or family, even after repeated attempts. “Even though we found him wandering the streets , there was no sign of mental illness when we conducted our assessment. All he needed was a place to stay, where he was cared for’’ said Keerthana.

An OP (outpatient) client, who works as a carpentry trainer at Banyan, has been teaching Muruggan the skills required for carpentry for the past two months. He has shown great interest in learning carpentry and loves to paint, shape or repair wooden commodities. The OP client who comes to Banyan everyday for a fixed number of hours, trains all residents who show a keen interest in carpentry or are talented at it. “Some residents, come once in awhile, Muruggan works with me every day either with repair work or painting, and has picked up the skills of carpentry very fast”, said the OP client.

Whenever Muruggan is free he can be found playing with shelter dog, Apu. However, upon asking him who his best friend is at the shelter, he promptly replies “the duty nurse’’ without a blink. The nurse is closely associated with the residential clients at the shelter; she stays with them throughout the day, even through their daycare activities.

Other activities conducted at the shelter as part of creative and conventional training include paper folding, bead making, basket decorating and designing which increases the dynamic engagement and brain function of the residents.

Apart from day-care shelter residents, there are seven clients enrolled in their night shelter program in which they outside for their work during the day and come back to the shelter at night.

‘’For men who are old and destitute, a single meal puts a gleam of hope and gratitude in their eyes. We ensure a good life for them by providing them with food, clothes, work and shelter, so that they feel safe and comfortable here’’, said Keerthana.

Many residents like Muruggan, have found a new life at The Banyan despite having gone through unimaginable struggles in their past, having lost faith in life, and becoming depressed. Here, their sustainability is assured as they know they are taken care of.

After finishing his lunch, Muruggan picks up his tools to resume his carpentry work. Upon being asked where his home is, he says, “this is my home.”

*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality