Of unity in adversity

NGOs

ALL FOR A CAUSE: The Sumanahalli Society has an orphanage for girls, a leprosarium, and a support group for AIDS victims, among other things. Photo by Shalini Satish

“Don’t go the way life takes you…Take life the way you want to go. Remember, you are born to live and not living because you are born.”

This quote on the bulletin board of Support, a centre for AIDS victims in Sumanahalli sums up the spirit infused among its inmates. Sumanahalli has transformed itself into a social hub in Bangalore where different socially committed groups work for marginalised people under the umbrella of Sumanahalli Society.

The 50-acre campus has an orphanage for girls (predominantly those with a leprosy background), a centre for people suffering from HIV, a home for juvenile delinquents, a home for street children and a leprosy home. Set in a serene and soothing environment amidst lush greenery, the campus is equipped with infrastructure for rehabilitation of the affected.

Dating back to 1944

In 1944, the Maharaja of Mysore is said to have gathered about 365 acres of land from farmers to set up a colony for beggars. This land was then utilised by the Central Relief Committee (CRC) operating under the aegis of the Department of Social Welfare to establish a shelter for rehabilitation of beggars.

In 1977, Devaraj Urs, the then chief minister of Karnataka requested P Arokiaswamy, the then archbishop of Bangalore to set up a leprosarium at Sumanahalli. For about twenty years, the work of Sumanahalli Society revolved around leprosy. Over the last decade, the services have been expanded to reach out to the homeless, the differently-abled, the ailing and the destitute.

People inflicted with diseases like leprosy and AIDS are often abandoned by their families owing to the social stigma associated with their ailments. With nowhere to go and no one to look up to, their life and death matters to none. Heartrending stories of undying hope amidst pain and suffering pour out from all quarters.

Tales of adversity

Among the many success stories that have emerged from the philanthropic work at Sumanahalli is that of a couple united by adversity. Vijay is visually impaired and Revathi has suffered severe burns. She was a social outcast and was forced to wear a veil to conceal her distorted appearance. Both of them are employed at the garments factory where Vijay works on a thread sucking machine and Revathi works in the housekeeping department.

Together they are striving to make ends meet and have even moved out of their respective shelters to set up their home and family. Another inspiring story is that of Ranga who came to Sumanahalli as a homeless child suffering from leprosy. Cured by the dreadful disease, he is now pursuing his studies in law and is also a budding artist and a talented dancer. As many as 500 people have managed to land government jobs.

Community weddings are conducted at Sumanahalli where some are between individuals who are HIV positive.

Medical treatment combined with sessions in counselling, occupational therapy and vocational training has given a ray of hope to the downtrodden. The government recognised St Joseph’s School at Sumanahalli educates about 200 underprivileged children, 60 of whom are directly or indirectly affected by leprosy. Training in printing, book binding, carpentry, welding and tailoring have enabled school drop-outs to earn a living. Ahalli, the garments manufacturing unit at Sumanahalli has provided employment for several people who are physically challenged. At the candle making unit, it was heartening to see colourful candles made by people suffering from AIDS and leprosy.

Awareness initiatives

The work begins with identifying the needy and continues as long as they require a support system. The infected are not only given treatment but also encouraged to grow in their own right. Their families are also looked after. Children of leprosy patients are highly susceptible to the infection and are kept away to prevent infection. The young ones go to school, the grown up are given vocational training, the elderly are looked after. counselling and tips for prevention of contagious diseases are part of the awareness initiatives. Some people are placed in jobs outside while the others work at the campus.

Over the years, the Sumanahalli Society has developed its campus which includes a school, shelters and training centres in the fifty acres of land leased by the Government of Karnataka.

However, dark clouds have been hovering over Sumanahalli for the past few months.
The foundation of the social set up at Sumanahalli where the homeless and hopeless thrive has been shaken by the decision taken by the Cabinet decision on July 7 2009, in which they propose to reclaim the land. There has been stiff resistance from Sumanahalli Society to prevent this.

“We have not gone to the city, the city has come to us,” says Fr George Kananthanam, the director of Summanahalli Society. “Why should the sick and needy always be thrown outside the city? Aren’t they the ones who need to be within the city so that immediate medical assistance is accessible to them?” he asks. 

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