We are delighted that Sumithra Prasad, Media Activist and Life Skills Counsellor, was able to take some time out to talk to us about her experiences of volunteering at The Banyan.
Sumithra first heard about The Banyan in 2007 when she came down to Chennai from Mumbai for a film on Vidyasagar. She had heard that The Banyan was one of the networking NGOs in the area of mental health.
Since then Sumithra has been volunteering at the Banyan in many different capacities. She made a film on the Community Mental Health Programme in 2008 where she showcased the services provided by The Banyan. Since that time she has happily participated in many other areas with The Banyan.
When Sumithra initially started volunteering at The Banyan, she felt great! She told us that she has had so many roles: from moderator, to judge, compere, counsellor, trainer, friend, partner in advocacy and filmmaker. She says that it has been a very organic experience for her.
Sumithra was part of the Spandan programme as a judge, conducted the Krida event as a compere and has also been involved in various programmes on the Erwadi Tragedy mobilising the student community from various colleges. She has also done several sensitisation programmes among youth on mental health issues.
When asked about changes she has noticed within The Banyan, Sumithra feels that more projects are floated and many young people have taken the plunge into the mental health sector, but stated that several programmes for youth such as the Spandan project have taken a back seat without Mathew’s initiative. Also the innovative endeavour, Krida, became a one-off as Chaitali went away. She also thought that the Interns and Volunteers orientation programmes have not been taking place at regular intervals (as they were during Mathew and Ashwini’s tenure). She also thought that outreach programmes in the outskirts of Chennai, such as the series at Ayanawaram and Namashivayapuram that happened during Mathew’s time, have not been conducted.
When asked what changes she would like to see at The Banyan, Sumithra said she would like to see changes in all the above areas, and also more sensitisation in the student community. Also she would like to see a serious inculcation of skill sets for service oriented mental health interactions.
Sumithra shared many fond memories of The Banyan. Including during Krida, when a group from Gujarat came, and afterwards she was able to visit them in Gujarat and she says it felt like home when she spent time motivating them.
She also talks about being blessed by her arm wrestling inspiration with Shri and Mr Vellodi. There was also a heart warming session at Spandan with the students of various city colleges and she also tells us of the gala time during a training programme for the community mental health care workers at Moggapair.
Sumithra was asked if she had any suggestions for people who want to volunteer at The Banyan. She said “Volunteering might be a thing that you wish to do – but it’s a serious business where you need to pledge not just your time but also your heart and soul. Don’t do it for time pass or just a feel good factor”.
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