Creating safety nets – building community mental health partnerships in Kerala

Kalyani* is a mother of three living with her daughter, and granddaughter. Although she is 80 years old, Kalyani still holds the responsibility of taking care of her family. Her daughter experiences paranoid delusions, and due to the severity of her illness, is unable to work, or help with household chores, her husband left many years ago unwittingly consigning Kalyani with the onus of caring for her mentally ill daughter.

Through a spell of bad luck, Kalyani’s grand daughter, Seeta*, met with a head injury that led her to develop psychotic symptoms, similar to her mother. Her delusions became so bad that she believed that if she even opened her eyes, she would die. Kalyani, at the age of 80, stepped up and found treatment for her granddaughter at a private facility. However, this facility was very far away  from their home, and expensive. The monthly injections that Seeta received did wonders for her symptoms, but cost more than Kalyani could afford. After losing support from her other son, she had to resort to begging. She wished that there was an option that was closer to her home and more affordable for her family.

When a team from The Banyan arrived at Kalyani’s home in February to explain how a new and free outpatient clinic, run in collaboration  with The Ottapalam Welfare Trust and Mehac Foundation was to be available only a few minutes away from her home,

“Just yesterday, I went to the Vishnu temple nearby to pray that I would find the money for my grand daughter’s next doctor’s visit, and here you are today, telling me that I can now access services in my own neighbourhood, you must be Vishnu” said Kalyani.

“No, no, I’m not Vishnu. I’m from The Banyan!” said our programme manager, Salih who heads the Kerala Chapter.

Kalyani felt that things were finally looking up.

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The Banyan making a field visit to the home of Kalyani and Seeta. 

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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.


Ready Mix Powder Workshop for Caregivers at The Banyan’s Day Care Centre

Ready Mix Powder Workshop

The State Resource cum Training Centre (SRTC) at K.K. Nagar, where The Banyan’s Day Care Centre is functioning, is a government office where the goal is identification of all disabilities, intervention, vocational training and employment for the disabled.

Camps are being held for issuing Identity Cards for the disabled for availing welfare schemes. There are model special schools for each disability.  It serves as an intervention centre.

There are nearly 60 mothers who come with their little ones and stay the whole day since they too need to be trained to communicate and understand their disabled children’s needs at home. The caregivers sometimes would sit outside and have time for themselves.

The Banyan had conducted a Parenting Workshop last year focussing on acceptance of their children with special needs.

This November, after discussing with them about their areas of interest, The Banyan held a workshop on the 26th.  The Workshop was on making ready mix powders, which the caregivers could prepare at home and start selling at shops as an income generation activity.

Volunteer, Ms. Indra, along with Vocational Training Coordinator Ms. Mary Sasikala conducted the workshop in the premises of SRTC. 32 caregivers attended the workshop.

They were first told how to use the induction stove and then taught the preparation of ready mix powders. The ingredients were explained and the caregivers noted it down.  For those who couldn’t write, a photocopy was given.

Ready Mix Powder Workshop

The group was very interested. Ms. Indra conducted the workshop in a simple and  clear manner. She gave instructions to make sambar mix, rasam powder mix, Idli powder mix and dhall mix (can be mixed in rice).

Caregivers were happy about the workshop and gave their feedback saying that in these days of fast food and unhygienic snacks, which can be found at every shop, they wanted to learn about making cake and biscuits and other nutritious dishes from Ms. Indra hygienically at home.

Erwadi Tragedy – 13th Anniversary


The thirteenth anniversary of the Erwadi fire tragedy in which 28 mentally-ill persons tied to chains were charred to death was observed on Wednesday by The Banyan, in collaboration with Department of Social work, Mar Gregorious College in Mogappair.



On August 6, 2001, 28 chained inmates of a home for mental ill died as they were unable to escape the fire that engulfed the thatched shed in Erwadi of Ramanathapuram district. The tragedy shook the conscience of the nation.

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VT Products Sell Like Hot Cakes at Pratiibimb 2014 . .

The Banyan Stall at Pratibimb 2014

The Banyan Stall at Pratibimb 2014

The Banyan’s VT Products were once again a huge hit at ‘Pratibimb’, the annual exhibition and sale organised by the Rangoonwala Foundation (India) Trust.  ‘Pratibimb’ allows various NGOs to showcase and sell their work, thereby creating awareness of the extensive work being carried out in the social sector throughout India.

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