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 

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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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Horticultural Pursuits Bear Veggies Before Pongal!

Bottle Gourd Harvest

Snake Gourd Harvest

Our clients celebrated Pongal this year with meaningful fervour as just a couple of weeks ago, it was indeed harvest time!  The first harvest from the horticultural forays of our very own gardeners, bore us snake gourds!

The ‘podalankais’ were much in demand and snatched off the shelves as soon as they were put on sale!  Each snake gourd was sold for a princely sum of Rs.10!

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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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Phenyl-making Process Taught to The Banyan’s Clients

Phenyl-making Workshop by Mr. Balaji

Phenyl-making Workshop by Mr. Balaji

Dr. P.S. Senthil Kumar, Occupational Therapist at The Banyan, facilitated a workshop by Mr. Balaji on phenyl making at the Shelter for the Homeless in Doomingkuppam, Santhome, Chennai, for the clients of the Shelter and of The Banyan’s Day Care Centre.
Phenyl-making Workshop by Mr. Balaji
Initially, Mr. Balaji demonstrated the process of making phenyl to all our clients.  Then, he asked the clients to individually demonstrate what they had learnt.   Many of the clients were able to recollect the entire process.  All the clients expressed delight that they had a learnt a new skill and thoroughly enjoyed the workshop.   Dr. Senthil plans to make this a routine activity at The Banyan and hopes to produce enough phenyl to meet the daily phenyl needs at the different projects.
Phenyl-making Workshop by Mr. Balaji

Phenyl-making Workshop

Following the workshop, Mr. Hari, our coordinator at the Shelter for the Homeless, organised lunch for all the clients.  Once lunch was done, all the clients were taken to the beach to relax before heading back. Without the coordinating efforts of Dr. Senthil, Mr. Balaji, Mr. Hari, and Ms. Punitha, the Day Care Centre’s coordinator, this event would not have been as successful as it was.
If you would like organise similar training workshops for our clients or would like to volunteer or donate in cash or kind, please follow the links below:

Click here to VOLUNTEER!

Contact Fanny for more info: +91-9884008643. volunteers@thebanyan.org

Click here to DONATE!

Contact Swapna for more info: +91-9840135913. swapna.k@thebanyan.org