On a sleepy street close to Mattanchery’s showpiece Jew Town, men and women – most of them aged above 50 – wait for their turn in the front yard of a temple. It’s about 11.30 am and the sreekovil is closed after the morning pujas.
But their wait is for intervention of a different kind. Some of them struggle to stand in reverence as a young man walks into the temple. He prays, does a sashtanga namaskaram and reports for duty. S Basavaraj is one of the 14 doctors who attend to patients at free medical camps conducted by Sreekaram, a charitable institution, in the premises of the Mullakkal Vanadurga Temple.
The man at the helm of the initiative is R Prakash, himself a kidney patient who undergoes two dialysis sessions every week. In 2009, when Prakash led a group, mostly comprising retired professionals and businessmen in and around Mattanchery into the idea of Sreekaram, he hoped to make a start in co-ordinating relief for the ailing in the neighbourhood. Four years later, with 142 registered patients and about 40 patients seeking consultation at the camps on Wednesdays and Sundays, he believes that Sreekaram has made more than a start.
The temple yard doubles up as a makeshift clinic, hosting patients practising different religions.
Individual records of patients are maintained at the clinic, on the lines of a hospital log. Women, including housewives, and retired government employees organise these files and register new patients ahead of the doctor’s visit, all at the temple mandapam.
Apart from providing free medical check-ups, laboratory tests, ECG tests and X-Rays, the organisation distributes free medicines after the consultation.
The prescriptions are not passed on to the patients; the Trust members purchase the medicines and hand them over. The Trust runs an ambulance service and a free homoeo clinic two days a week. “The response to these projects has been extremely positive. So far, we have managed without taking monetary contributions from the public because the patrons have been very generous. The doctors who extend free consultation at the camps are a crucial part of this success,” says Prakash.
Sreekaram provides treatment and medicines worth about Rs 70,000 every month with contributions from its around 90 members and philanthropists. The Trust is planning to streamline its monthly financial support to kidney and cancer
patients. The idea is to move away from bulk, one-time contributions that the patient could spend to meet other needs and instead, ensure a steady monthly support for treatment and medicines.
Basavaraj, a doctor from Belgaum in Karnataka and medical officer at a neighbourhood private hospital, has been with the team since the launch in 2009. “The model of service itself is fascinating. We are quite familiar with pujas and rituals conducted by temple trusts at exorbitant rates. This is a different sort of puja.
That Sreekaram has managed to offer this free service for four years is quite an achievement,” says the doctor in a mix of English and the Malayalam he has picked during his eight years in Kochi. At the temple, one of the Trust members also provides free breakfast for about 40 people every day.
Sreekaram has linked its operations at the Mullakkal temple with other projects including Pakalveedu (Day Home), a nine-to-five home for senior citizens to gather around and interact when others in the family are out on work. “Again, it’s only a start. Five to eight senior citizens from in and around the area come to us everyday. They talk, they bond and sometimes go out on walks. It’s an attempt to add some bustle to their days,” says C G Pradeep Kumar, vice president of Sreekaram.
The Trust recently received a request from a tenth standard student seeking support for treatment of cancer. The request was trigger for Sreekaram that has commenced a project involving collection of old newspapers to support people in need of medical assistance. Five members of the Trust kicked off the campaign and in about 15 days, they collected close to a tonne of old papers from donors, say Anantharaj and Rakesh Thampan, members of Sreekaram. The Trust managed to collect about Rs 11,000 from sale of the papers that was handed over to the patient for treatment.
“These are all models that we keep exploring. Some of the schools have also shown interest in the project; even if one student brings 10 old papers the total output could be of immense value in purchasing medicines or helping patients with treatment,” says Prakash. Sreekaram has lined up a micro insurance scheme in association with the LIC and mass awareness campaigns on organ donation and cancer along with schools, clubs and residents’ associations. The Trust is also in the final stages of obtaining a 10-cent property to set up its administrative and rehabilitation facilities.