Thursday, June 30, 2011

Doc

Dr. Bharat Vatwani is the founder and guiding light of Shraddha. Starting in 1988 with a two-room tenement in Mumbai, Dr. Vatwani treated a few homeless mentally ill at a time. In 1997, the proceeds of an art exhibition of leading Indian artists and the contributions of several donors led to the opening of a 20 bed psychiatric facility in Mumbai. Unfortunately neighbors took Shraddha to court for housing "roadside, psychiatrically disturbing elements" that were perceived to be a threat to their community. In a landmark finding, the Mumbai High Court found that “mentally–ill, roadside destitutes are as much entitled to medical help as any physically indisposed person.”

In 2006, Dr. Vatwani was able to acquire 6.5 acres 90 kilometers southeast of Mumbai. The Karjat center provides a rehabilitation model that includes agriculture for up to 70 patients at a time. Over 1900 of the mentally ill homeless have been helped off the roads, treated, rehabilitated and reunited with their families throughout India.

In this clip Dr. Vatwani discusses how he was inspired to commit his life to serving homeless people with mental illness.


video

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reunion


Kamala returns home (photo used with permission).
Kamala's mother with grandchild.
The ultimate goal of Shraddha is reuniting patients recovered from schizophrenia with their families. Since 2006, over 1000 patients have been returned to their families. I've just returned from a road trip in Shraddha's ambulance through Maharashtra to northern Karnataka. I joined three social workers in reuniting three patients with their families. The last patient, Kamala, was a Banjara tribal woman who left her people seven years ago and was found psychotic on the streets of Mumbai three months ago by Shraddha social workers. In village after village around Aurad, the social workers asked Banjara people if they recognized Kamala or knew where to find her village. In the Banjara village of Bijalwadi Tanda, a woman called Kamala "Diwani" or Beloved, a common term in south India for those we call mentally ill. Deep in rural India down kilometers of brutal dirt track, we finally tracked down her home village of Nandi Bijalgau .

I was up front in the ambulance with social worker Vikram Shelar and driver Manaram Choudhary and had an excellent front row seat view of the extreme sport that is Indian driving. There were no seat belts. Glad we survived the road trip....

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Life at Shraddha

A patient milks a cow (top); another prepares a paddy for planting rice.
Through the haze of jet lag and soggy monsoon heat, I am slowly adjusting to life at Shraddha. There are currently 42 men and 16 women who are patients at Shraddha. They have been found wandering the streets in florid psychosis in various parts of India: West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Jarkhand, Tamil Nadu, Maharastra, Rajasthan, Orissa, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Stabilized on medication, patients participate in the production of food and milk used to sustain Shraddha.

Posting here will be challenging given the very limited access to the internet at Shraddha or Karjat. I'm grateful to social worker Mansoor Rizvi for the use of his internet stick.