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.

Continue reading “Creating safety nets – building community mental health partnerships in Kerala”

Vandana Writes On Fanny’s Volunteering Efforts at The Banyan

Fanny with some of her team of volunteers and staff

There are beautiful people all around us who make this world a better place – we just have to look. There can’t be anything truer for us at The Banyan. Over the past twenty years, we have met so many spirited, driven and compassionate volunteers who engage in a range of activities – cleaning floors, serving food, taking our residents out on a picnic, raising funds, making mundane entries into books and  much else. The Banyan wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for them, who propped up our vision, owned it as much as we did and gave us the energy and courage to doggedly keep at our goals against all odds.

Many of them despite their own struggles and personal goals, put aside time to be a part of this larger movement because they believed in the need to connect with the vulnerable and  less privileged; they felt responsible for any and all inequity and attempted to bridge gaps;  from this emerged empathy, commitment, passion and a conviction to catalyse social change.

Fanny is one such person who never ceases to amaze me. She travels from Pondicherry to Chennai every Thursday, week after week, come rain or storm to devote dedicated time at The Banyan until the following Monday, (4 days) doing things that involve precision, detailing and persistence.

Vandana and Dr Kishore with Fanny
Vandana and Dr Kishore with Fanny

Besides forming a bond with the residents who love her, she took less that a month to feel at home and take it upon herself to set many things right, things that always bothered me, things that I knew needed to be fixed. At The Banyan, as a result of the nature of clients that we work with, small things become an issue – keeping the place clean, the bathrooms dry, the residents hygienic.

Fanny with The Banyan’s clients and staff

These seemingly mundane issues need  focussed time and initiative to resolve,  but when fixed could substantively contribute to the over all well being and happiness of all residents.    Unfortunately, we are not in a position to hire expensive or even adequate help and often have to multitask ourselves to get this right.  Fanny recognising these nuanced needs, decided to spend considerable time  improving self care and hygiene, herself cleaning sometimes or at other times training our staff and residents. This has now grown into a large resident driven housekeeping team who also get incentivised for their work.

Fanny with staff and clients at Adaikalam
Fanny with staff and clients at Adaikalam

The other focus area was to ensure that residents could access clothes of their choice – the colours they liked, a size that fitted well and a style of their choice, considering we have a mini India within The Banyan. She would sit in a room on a heap of messed up clothes for hours, sort them out on the basis of the above criterion and then return the next week to find it messed up yet again.Its now been just over a year. Things are not  perfect as yet, but they are a far cry from what they were earlier. If something needed to be set right and cost something, she would try raise resources herself – she knew we were strapped for funds. Now we have a system in place that encourages our residents to visit the clothes store and pick their own clothes. This stirs up an interest in them to look good, feel important and exercise personal choice and options.

All clients have their own labelled locker for their clothes
All clients have their own labelled locker for their clothes
Selection of clothes for a client.
A view of a client’s locker
When one talks human rights in psychiatric nursing homes,  the debate is often about voluntary and involuntary treatment. The reason many institutions fail is because the smaller, critical aspects are neglected. The food one eats, the clothes one wears, the bathing space, the friendship one fosters etc are essential to the healing process. These one gets to know only when one dirties ones hand. Vaishnavi and I lived at The Banyan for eight years and breathed the Banyan life. And thereon our colleagues, and volunteers like Fanny have kept the investment in these details and simple things going.
One of our residents looking really beautiful for the Diwali celebrations.
One of The Banyan’s clients dressed up for Diwali celebrations

Fanny’s incredible strength, drive, patience and faith have resulted in better lives for many. And the best part is that there are no expectations – she is content with her invisibility and finds her joy in smiles that greet her. Her hard work has made our lives easier.

Fanny and Vandana with Pavi at the Diwali Bash in Adaikalam

Fanny, a writer by profession also works on this newsletter and on other communication material. Adept at multitasking, Fanny could easily double her income but her choice is determined by her understanding of this world: That we are all connected and that there cannot be a better way to live than to give of yourself to build a more humane future for the generations to come. Knowing that the Fannys of the world are around, we sleep in peace, feeling fuzzy and secure.

– Vandana Gopikumar, Co-Founder, The Banyan
Please help The Banyan to continue to enrich the lives of the residents by donating or by volunteering.
Click here to VOLUNTEER!

Contact Fanny for more info: +91-9884008643.

Click here to DONATE!

Contact Swapna for more info: +91-9840135913.


My Beautiful ‘Banyan’ Experience by Vaishnavi Sundar, Volunteer

Vaishnavi Sundar, who recently visited The Banyan
Vaishnavi Sundar, who recently volunteered at The Banyan

“When I made up my mind to visit The Banyan this past Saturday I was excited and at the same time felt  a pang of responsibility throbbing in my mind. It must not be a one-off frivolous act of sporadic kindness, I told myself. I wanted it to have some meaning, meaning so profound that only I could comprehend it.

With an amazing companion, a friend, a fantastic human – S, I travelled to The Banyan! We looked around a little bit but could not find the venue right away. Google maps then came to rescue – NOT; it guided us to the destination traversing myriad streets, almost circular in nature and indicated we have arrived. It was a cinematic moment, when we went past a few buildings and the voice said “your destination has arrived,” we only saw an empty land! Google has never failed to amaze me with its extraneous instructions. That’s when I got skittish and he my friend was reciprocating my restiveness.

Then we resorted to the hackneyed way, at least according to S, of asking around but there was hardly anyone in the vicinity. We went to a petty shop and asked the shopkeeper where “The Banyan” was. He looked clueless and so we said “it’s a home”. To my surprise, the taciturn shopkeeper asked us “Are you asking about the mental home?” He then guided us to the place which wasn’t actually very far from there!

When we reached, it was drizzling and the azure sky had turned grey and overcast! I instantly suddenly had a lump in my throat at the thought of what is was going to ensue.

The Banyan at Moggapair - Adaikalam
The Banyan at Moggapair – Adaikalam

We were greeted by a friendly receptionist and were asked to wait at the reception so that she could try and give the volunteering coordinator a call. We were waiting and many residents were walking about, lying down and just sitting in the same room. There was an air of quiet resignation in the room.

Some of them were lost and aloof and some were voluble. I interacted with about 8 of them and each and everyone was quite pleased to have had a listener for themselves. I think it is these deeds, though they seem trivial, are the foundation of giving them a better life, a fulfilled life.

Of the lot, three refuse to get out of my mind. There was this petite, elderly resident who walked into the reception area clapping and singing some unfamiliar songs, possibly religious. She walked up to me and extended her hand that held a peeled orange, I only smiled at her and she carried on asking everyone else around me. She sat in front of me, still singing some songs. She asked me what my name was in Hindi and the only thought that immediately struck me was that she probably does not have company to have a friendly dialog in that language so I decided to jump at the opportunity. She told me about how Allah sings in her ears and she just mouths them, how her many siblings have settled in various parts of the country and so on. She seemed like a very compassionate person, offering people her oranges and making them sit next to her.

Then the extremely cheerful and vociferous friend arrived. She had a very pronounced folk accent. She was constantly telling me that I was beautiful and that I was the only who was more beautiful than herself in all of The Banyan. She was quite upfront in expressing her dislike towards my short hair and my ‘boyish’ appearance. She offered to take me to her house once she was okay, and promised to cook chicken as a treat. My hand was strongly holding hers and I was ecstatic when she offered to sing a whole Tamil song (Maya Machindra from the movie Indian) for us. I was moved, quivering mentally at how life can be quite unfortunate sometimes. She insisted that I should wear sarees and flowers and jewellery and what not! I readily agreed and we parted with my promise to visit again. She went away to enthuse more people!

While all this was happening, there was a face peering at me from outside the window. She constantly kept shifting positions to favour her view. I noticed her intent eyes quite clearly. I did not try to gesture to her as she was slightly afar and may not be able to see me. There were more people at the reception by then. Some hugging and holding me and asking about me, showering all the love that seemed suppressed. This lady then walked up close to me. I looked at her and smiled. She hid her face.. I extended my hand; she nodded gesturing a ‘NO’. I pointed the seat and gestured her to sit beside me – she nodded negative again. By then I had to attend a phone call and talk to the receptionist and I could not spot her again. After a while there she stood again, by the window with those intent eyes. I will remember to talk to her next time.

S and I then had some basic chores of colour coding the donated clothes and segregate them logically into wearable sets. After we were done we felt quite contented. We took off back home with an unsaid promise that we will be back here again soon.

They need more listeners, those lovely people. And they need friends. If you have the time and even if you have not, you should experience this to know what unconditional love really means. Give them your time as that’s all they need! And at the end of it, I promise that you will come out having gained a lot more than what you actually gave.”

To look at Vaishnavi’s blog, follow the link below:

You can help the residents of The Banyan, by volunteering or donating, please click on the links below for more information:

Click here to VOLUNTEER!

Contact Fanny for more info: +91-9884008643.

Click here to DONATE!

Contact Swapna for more info: +91-9840135913.

The Banyan – A Volunteer’s Perspective

Mariam, a medical student, recently spent a week of her annual holiday volunteering at The Banyan. We are delighted that she wanted to share her experiences with us…

Mariam with some of the residents at Kovalam
Mariam with some of the residents at Kovalam

“As a medical student, mental health conditions have always interested me, both the physical and social aspects of them. I was fortunate enough to see both sides of this during my time at The Banyan which was invaluable to me for my learning. Moreover, I am an avid volunteer who loves spending time with people from completely different backgrounds to myself, thus I could not think of a better way to spend a week of my holiday in India. Continue reading “The Banyan – A Volunteer’s Perspective”

iOpex Technologies Hosts Fundraising Stall

VT Products Stall at iOpex Technologies, Ambattur
VT Products Stall at iOpex Technologies, Ambattur

Not too long ago, an enthusiastic IOpex representative, Ms. Ramya Sridharan, reached out to The Banyan to extend all possible help. She asked for ideas through which her company could engage in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Initiatives with The Banyan. It was very clear that Ms. Ramya and her team were very interested in helping The Banyan’s clients.

Continue reading “iOpex Technologies Hosts Fundraising Stall”