Friday, August 11, 2006

More visits

A few days back I visted an organization called Asraya in Thiruvananthapuram. It is remarkable in many ways, yet seemed very ordinary and almost natural. They describe themselves as an organization of "service minded ladies, mainly housewives and retired career women, motivated by concern, sympathy and love for the poor and suffering." There are about 260 of them now! They take turns to visit the Regional Cancer Center in the city, and provide a variety of services for the poor patients. Apart from palliative care, serving health drinks to the patients, giving guidance to the confused and traumatised new comers etc. they provide essential monetary help towards medicines, food and sometimes even education for the children of some of the deceased. Last year, apparently, they gathered about Rs. 24 lakhs (Rs 2.4 million), and disbursed almost all of it to the needy in money and kind. The founders of the organization were motivated by personal tragedies, and were inspired by similar organizations in some hospitals in USA that they learned about. Since then it has evolved with active support of the doctors and hospital authorities, participation from the increasing number of volunteers and donations from their friends and relatives.

I went there wondering what drive these women to do something so unconventional. But seeing them there it seemed like the most natural thing to do. I asked many of them about how they got involved, and their answers were nothing incredible: they heard about it from someone already involved, thought it was a good idea, started coming and would continue as long as they can do so without much trouble. After all it gives them a chance to make a difference in the lives of many people, as well as a greater sense of purpose for themselves.

It was curious to watch them complain about how the patients' relatives harass them for help. They talked to the invading crowd firmly, but kindly. Clearly they couldn't take care of everyone's needs, and had to make hard and subjective decisions about whom to help, how and how much.

While I was in their office, a couple of young girls approached them. They had lost their father a few days back, and were directed to Asraya for potential help with college fees for one of them. She had enrolled herself for a B.A. program. As soon as she mentioned this, came the questions. Would she get a job after her B.A.? Why would she want to do a B.A.? Asraya helps only with "professional courses." Anyway, she could leave an application behind, and Asraya will consider it.

On the way back, I went with a couple of Asraya volunteers to a nearby building housing the "Devaki Warrier Memorial" centre. It's in fact a small place which can accommodate about a dozen people. Since they don't have a website, I'll quote from the brochure I was given:

The organisation started functioning in 2002 under the auspices of Kerala Working Women's Association, in memory of its founder president Devaki Warrier. She was a veteran freedom fighter and dedicated woman activist till her last breath. Since Devaki Warrier left us in December 2001 due to cancer, one of the main objectives of the Centre is extending a helping hand to poor cancer patients. Free accommodation and food is being provided to cancer patients who are under O.P. treatment in the Regional Cancer Centre at Thiruvananthapuram.

Today, I visited a place called "Balavihar." Here's a photo:
It was as part of evaluating a project proposal from the organization to Asha St. Louis (not that I'm part of the St. Louis chapter, but being an Asha volunteer currently on vacation in the city was compelling enough reason). I guess I'll stay in the loop and post here updates on the project proposal.

Coming up is a visit to Chennai. This is more of a professional trip, visiting SETS and giving a talk on my research at IMSc and all that. Assuming of course that at the airport they let me take my laptop along.

1 comment:

Pradeep said...

Hi Manoj, Glad to hear that you were able to visit Asraya. Seems to me that you are impressed with what they are doing. Still couldnt deliver that money. The draft is sitting at the ICICI Bank in Bombay. When you are coming back?