by Rohini Vemuganti

Bamunigaon is located around 60 kms from Guwahati. I entered this complex and was greeted by the Centre In-charge (Head nurse) on campus who later took me around the centre. This was Navchetna, a rehabilitation home for homeless women suffering from mental illnesses. Navchetna, which translates to “A new hope”, is a centre where women with mental illness wandering in the streets are rescued, admitted, provided with care, treatment, and rehabilitation. This entire process takes place in 2 units – Navachetana Transit and Navachetana Rehab. Most of these women suffer from severe mental illness and are either rescued from the streets or brought in by the police. They go through a medical check-up and are then admitted in transit care, which is located in Guwahati city. These women are provided with treatment along with rehabilitation inputs including, but not limited to, vocational training. “Over the years there have been a lot of cases where women have been in a manic state at the time of admission/rescue, and the residential staff had to struggle as the initial pharmacological treatment started showing results,” says Chandana, Senior Executive, Ashadeep.

“We have a growth chart. It is used to monitor the patient’s recovery. If a woman reaches a goal of 4 and is stable, we then move her to the rehab centre in Bamunigaon, about 60km away from Guwahati, where she undergoes training in vocational skills like weaving, stitching etc. Once the woman has recovered, her home is traced and she is reunited with her family. Periodic follow ups are maintained thereafter, to ensure compliance to medication and prevent relapse,” adds Chandana. She explains that “Some women also get opportunities to earn after recovering. One of them works as a housemaid. She gives us the money and we save it for her. When she gets reintegrated, we will give her the entire money. Few beneficiaries had saved up to Rs.20,000 which was given to them when they got reintegrated.”

As I went inside the office, I found a lady in her late thirties sitting there. “Namaskar, mera naam Salima (name changed) hai aur mein Bangladesh se hu,” she said. (My name is Salima and I’m from Bangladesh.)

Snigdha, the psychologist, interrupted and explained that “As these women suffer from severe mental illness, Schizophrenia being the most common, they can have extreme levels of hallucination at the initial phase of treatment. As the treatment starts to work,we initiatecounselling sessions every Thursday, where we talk to patients one-to-one. These sessions help in eliciting information regarding the background of the women. One session with Salima was very intense. She spoke about how she got trafficked and how her father sold her when she was a child. She then came here. She doesn’t want to go home.”

Of the 55 women currently residing in Navachetana, there are 27 women like Salima, whose homes haven’t been found yet or their families have refused to take them back. Though the rate of successful reintegration is more than 90%, there are few cases like Salima.

When asked to explain reintegration, Chandana says, “As patients recover, they can usually remember their correct address, making it easier for us to locate their families. Then, our health workers accompany the women or men to their respective homes. Our patients come from all over the country, and it is wonderful to see them reunited with their families.”

Just a few meters away from Navchetana is Udayan, a home for homeless men with mental illness. Udayan translates to sunrise and hosts about 25 men. It has both a transit and rehab home in one campus. The centre has a garden with hibiscus, roses and shrubs maintained by the residents themselves. This centre was initiated in collaboration with the Government of Assam, to extend services for homeless men with mental illness as per the ‘Navachetana’ model of rehabilitation.

One of Ashadeep’s major initiatives is the Day Rehabilitation Centre for Children & Adults with Intellectual Disability and associated Disorders. Unlike other schools or institutions which cater to individuals with mental disorders, this organization stands apart by the way it focuses increasing self-sufficiency and dignity through vocational training and extra-curricular activities. As I entered the gate, I was stopped by a boy who wanted me to write my entry and exit time. This boy was a student who suffered from developmental disorder and was given a task of registering visitors. I walked into a room where a group of five boys and girls were playing the guitar and singing songs. In another room, they were enacting a play with the guidance of their drama teacher. Some were making posters and charts. I was always greeted with handshakes and bright smiles.

Few meters away is ‘Ability’, their vocational training centre, where older children are taught block painting, doormat making etc. Women who suffer from mental illness also participate in the training. These handcrafted items are then sold in exhibitions.

For his work and dedication, for his love for his family which later turned as an inspiration to serve the society, and for his never ending enthusiasm, Mukul Goswami (Founder, Ashadeep) was awarded the Padmashree by the government of India. His smile and fresh ideas continue to inspire the staff and keep them going.

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