Monday, September 21, 2015

Providing Solace for Society's Wounded

The Welfare Association Trust, near Aluva, looks after physically and mentally-challenged children and adults, as well as the poor and elderly 

Photos: Physical Educator Vijaya Suresh helps a mentally-challenged youngster, Antony, to throw a ball; a young girl. Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram  

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a sunny morning, Physical Educator Vijaya Suresh helps a mentally-challenged youngster, Antony, to throw a basketball. After a few tries, Antony is able to put the ball through the hoop. Just behind them, at West Veliyathunad, near Aluva, there is a large open-air auditorium, with an asbestos roof, where children are sitting around small tables. Some are drawing, with crayons, while others are playing a game with plastic cups. A small girl is writing numbers from one to 10.

One who looks physically imposing is the 34-year-old Reshma. “She weighs 110 kgs,” says VA Mohammed Iqbal, the Vice Chairman of the Welfare Association Trust (WAT). Inside a physical therapy room, 11-year-old Jishnu is walking slowly holding on to two parallel bars. “He suffers from muscular weakness,” says Iqbal. “We do a lot of need-based therapy.”

Next to him, in a wheelchair, is a paralysed youth, Rahul Rajan, 19. His mother, Salila, who is pushing the wheelchair, is employed as a nurse. “Since I work here, it makes it easier to look after my son,” says Salila, who has two healthy college-going sons. “It was complications during my pregnancy that resulted in Rahul being mentally and physically challenged.”

In another room, a group of students are making soaps, paper packets, napkins and phenol. These are packed and put on sale in the office. The staff also buy it.

In the women’s dormitory, there are abandoned wives, as well as old women whose children no longer want to look after them. The 80-year old Subaida Kanjiramattam says that she has a daughter in Munnar, but she never comes to meet her.

There was a girl, Naseema, who roamed around the streets and ate from the garbage in Erattupetta. Somebody brought her to the home. Her teeth were in decay, and her hair was dirty. “Now she is okay,” says Iqbal. “Her relatives come to see her now and then. If there are family functions, they come and take her.”

A few years ago, there was also a mentally challenged woman who had come from Karnataka. She got down from the bus at Aluva and hurt herself. The locals took her to the hospital. “After treatment, the doctors referred her to us,” says Iqbal. “She stayed at the home for a long while, before she died."

The WAT has been running a special school, an old age home for men and women, as well as a welfare village, nearby. “There is an area of 78 cents where we have built 14 houses,” says President Habeebullah. “Poor people are allowed to stay there, but the ownership remains with the Association.”

In another area, of one and a half acres, the WAT is giving three cents to each family but they will have to build their own houses. “Around 35 families will benefit,” says Habeebullah. “The preference is for those who are widows, or if the bread winner is paralysed, or if there are more girls in the family.”

To provide help, the WAT encourages people to send in applications. Thereafter, committee members form a group and go and meet each family. “We want to ensure that each case is genuine,” says Habeebullah.

Sometimes, they come across people who are in a precarious situation. Once, Iqbal went inside a house, near a canal, where during the monsoon season the water would gush into the house. “Inside, a man was lying paralysed on the bed, while his wife was blind,” he says. “They had a 14-year-old daughter and had no source of income. So we arranged to provide a monthly stipend so that they could meet their basic expenses.”

In another case, they saw that a mentally challenged boy was tied to the bed in chains. “When we enquired, the parents, who are labourers, said that they both needed to work, to make ends meet,” says Iqbal. “They did not have the money to get somebody to look after the child. Hence, they were forced to tie the boy up.”

Incidentally, it was a former Deputy Inspector General of Police, PK Mohammed Hassan who donated his family house as well as his property of two acres to the WAT. “Today, the house has become an old people's home,” says Habeebullah. “And Hassan's son, Dr. Mansoor is the chairman of the association.”

The Association depends on donations from people in Kerala and from Malayalis in the Middle East. “There is also the zakat and zadaqah tax,” says executive committee member Asif Komu. “All Muslims have to set aside 2 ½ per cent of their salary for charity.”

Asked the philosophical reason why these tragedies occur, Iqbal shrugs his shoulders, and says, “Sometimes, a mother suffers an illness during pregnancy, or there is a genetic disorder. We don't know how it happens. Even science cannot explain it. As to why the particular person or family has to go through this suffering, it is a mystery. Only God can give an answer. What we can do is to provide solace and comfort.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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