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.



The NALAM Project: Notes from the field



The Banyan is excited to introduce its most recent venture – NALAM- a participatory, multi-dimensional approach that seeks to address mental health issues by focusing on well-being and alleviating socio-economic distresses.  This exciting initiative will be spearheaded by passionate, skilled community mobilisers in 30 Panchayats of the Thiruporur block, all working towards increased well-being and improved mental health outcomes in their communities.  NALAM is supported by a Grand Challenges Canada Global Mental Health grant. Grand Challenges Canada is funded by the Government of Canada and is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact in global health.

Initiated in October 2013, the formative research phase and baseline studies of the two year action research came to an end in March this year with the first batch of ‘NALAM Community Wellness Mobilisers’ arriving for their 10 day training module. Special sessions were conducted by Dr Srilatha Juvva, from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences on ‘Self and Reflexive Practice’ and Dr Kishore, the Director of The Banyan on ‘Mental Health and Well-Being.’ Our sharp, feisty participants were a joy to work with.  The diversity of ages and backgrounds-our youngest NALAM community mobiliser is 21 and our oldest is 50- made it an enriching experience for all involved.

On the first day of training, NALAM Mobilisers were posed two questions on the board (“Describe yourself in a few words” and “Describe an incident/moment/person that brought about a change in your life”) and were asked to think of answers that they would say to be filmed on tape. The result were a series of beautiful, heart-rendering testimonies from strong, independent women dedicated to bringing about positive change; these videos reflect the spark and personality in these women and their effervescent joie de vivre was truly inspiring.

Below are glimpses into some of their incredible stories.

Uma Maheshwari

“For seven years, my husband drank a lot and his mental health was badly affected but I dealt with it on my own.  I couldn’t tell anyone outside because I felt it would reduce my respect. I brought him to The Banyan 4 years ago and he has not drunk a single sip since then…[..].. Why I want to do work like this? I thought about all the people out there, who like me can’t tell anyone about their situation. I thought that I could share my example with these people and help in some way.”

– Uma Maheshwari, Vandalur


“…whatever work I do, even if I don’t know anything about it, I always have the eagerness to know and learn more. I think men and women are equal and ladies have all the same talents and abilities as men.  Apart from that, I am a chatterbox–sometimes I think I should my chattering but then I only keep getting opportunities to talk more! Like this video! I’m really glad I get this opportunity to do this work as a member of The Banyan. I want to keep learning about things I don’t know. That’s all there really is to say”

– Saraswathi, Melakottaiyur


“From a young age, I really wanted to become a nun. There was a sister guiding me from the 6th grade who even came home and asked my parents but they did not agree because we were Hindu. My life went on and I got married but the last thing she said to me was “you can do your service however you want- even after getting married. Just don’t stay without doing it!” She told me to listen patiently when people came to me with problem. So I take all of this and in the way that I know, if someone asks me something, I do the help that I can now.  I’m not coming to say that I do a lot but for what that sister told me continue to do my work passionately and will continue to do so at The Banyan.”

– Jeyapriya, Kovalam

To know more about NALAM, or visit one of the NALAM panchayats, contact:

Malavika Subramanian – +91 94454 73304, malavika@thebanyan.org

Nisha Vinayak – +91 99402 75305, nisha@thebanyan.org

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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Grand Workmanship by Our Clients at Kovalam VT Unit

Clients displaying the wire baskets made by them

Clients displaying the wire baskets made by them

This astounding display of wire baskets speaks a lot about our clients’ determination  and focus.  All aimed at fulfilling an order for 200 baskets before the 6th of February, 2014.  Mrs. Sashi Naidu, Vocational Training Head at The Banyan’s Health Centre in Kovalam, shares with us the trials and challenges and how the clients made it happen… way ahead of the deadline!

“I would first like to say thanks to Mrinalini for giving us an opportunity.  Her novel order for the 200 plastic baskets  came at a time when we needed it the most.  This turned out to be a pilot study of whether our clients are capable of coming together to fulfil a large order…and they did!  200 baskets in just 22 days!

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RMHP Team Visits Mental Health Action Trust in Calicut

RMHP Team at Wayanad

RMHP Team at Wayanad

Some of our team members from the Rural Mental Health Programme (RMHP) – Sagyamary, Kavitha and Smriti – had gone on a three day exposure trip that took them all the way to picturesque Calicut in Kerala.

The aim was to visit an organisation, Mental Health Action Trust (MHAT), which is similar to The Banyan and also promotes mental health and offers free services to the poor and those in need.  MHAT is run by Dr. Manoj, a senior psychiatrist.

RMHP Team at Pulakil

RMHP Team at Pulakil

The team visited various sites spread around three districts in Kerala- Malapuram, Kozhikode and Wayanad. They are very grateful to Dr Manoj and The Banyan for this exciting learning experience.

This exposure has proven to be quite beneficial to the RMHP team as they’ve returned with several new insights that will be of much use in improving The Banyan’s work in rural areas.  Here’s a report, with more pictures, by Ms. Smriti Vallath.

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