Founding the means for the many

No one should die of lack of medicine or doctors. Children have to be provided with the tools to pursue their dreams and accomplish great things.
Founding the means for the many

CHENNAI: No one should die of lack of medicine or doctors. Children have to be provided with the tools to pursue their dreams and accomplish great things. Disabled people have the same basic human rights and dreams and need support to realise those dreams.

Every farmer in India should have access to technology and methods to improve their path in life. And that is how I see our Foundation today. A means for many,” tells Shweta Rawat, chairperson, and founder of The Hans Foundation (THF), a charitable endowment.

Over the past decade, the trust has been funding hundreds of not-for-profit organisations, while reaching out to those from the margins of the society, by developing solutions that can be replicated across the country.

In a tête-àtête with CE, the social entrepreneur talks about the Foundation’s work in providing equal access, de-institutionalising and reintegrating people with mental illnesses into ‘mainstream society’ through their recent ‘Home Again’ project and their vision for the future. Excerpts follow:

How have THF’s basic tenets evolved over the years?
THF was established to provide equal prospects for everyone, regardless of their caste, creed, race, economic status, gender and religion. We believe that knowledge is the most valuable currency and stories are waiting to be told and waiting to unfold. We initially started with four focus areas — education, disability, livelihood and health; we, later, added women empowerment and more holistic child development.

The programmes are aimed at improving the quality of life of the underprivileged communities and the interventions range from grassroots projects to national programmes. Over the past decade, we have expanded our portfolio to also address issues on climate change and livelihood generation. This is the organic way the foundation has grown and reacted to the changing needs of the people. Our basic tenet was and remains to provide and improve access; that no one in our big, beautiful country should be bereft of clean water or the right to send their children to school.

How does the Foundation’s ‘Home Again’ project aim to address the long-term Institutionalisation of people with mental illnesses?
In disability, mental health remains the least intervened area even by the civil society organisations. We felt it was necessary to create a dialogue and a platform for visibility for people with mental health issues. In India, 10-12 per cent of persons in long-term institutional care have no families to return to. Evidence from high-income countries suggests that initiatives that enable the transition of such persons into community care can accomplish favourable outcomes.

THF partnered with The Banyan in Tamil Nadu to launch the Home Again project to foster choicebased, inclusive living spaces through rented homes in rural or urban neighbourhoods. This is also integrated with a range of supportive services for people with persistent mental health issues ready to move out of institutions. Along with housing, the programme features allied supportive services such as opportunities for work, facilitation of government welfare entitlements, problemsolving, socialisation support, leisure and recreation, and onsite non-specialist personal assistants.

The programme has been recognised by the Government of Tamil Nadu, Department of Health and local governing bodies in rural settings. The project has allowed women (and men) in Tamil Nadu to rediscover the joys of living in a home and forming a family unit, negotiating new identities and roles, re-entering life in an urban or rural community.

In Tamil Nadu, clients of Emergency Care and Recovery Centres (ECRC) — ready to exit hospital settings but have no families to go back to, are not accepted back by their families, or are unwilling to return to families — are transitioned into Home Again. There are a total of 27 homes, out of which 20 homes are supported through THF and seven homes by RIST. In the 27 homes, approximately 135 residents are housed. Twenty homes are in Chennai, six in Tiruchy and one in Tiruvannamalai.

Women of The Hans Foundation
Women of The Hans Foundation

What are the challenges that those who are de-institutionalised face?
Adapting to life outside an institution can be very difficult. In the majority of instances, we hope to reunify residents with family and loved ones. In cases where this is not possible, community living is the option. The goal is to provide a continuum of care as required to maintain the health of the individual, provide counselling and guidance to them to cope with the new set of challenges, and educate and inform the community around.

Some challenges include continued post-exit treatment and medical care, or where users need to build social, economic and cultural networks and reclaim agency and continue to access meaningful pathways based on personal choices and aspirations. The Home Again programme takes into account all these factors. It provides safe and secure housing for its participants; medical and non-medical care; skills and vocational training to enable employment and economic independence.

Citizenship and financial inclusion rights are procured by facilitating voter ID cards, Aadhar cards and bank accounts. These aspects allow the programme to reach its vision of changing the paradigm — of prolonged institutionalisation as the sole systemic response towards long-term needs of persons with mental illness through inclusive living options that promote social inclusion, community participation and agency.

For those with mental illnesses and their caregivers, the pandemic has been a tough time. Do you think India’s mental healthcare system has failed to deliver during the COVID-19 crisis?
The already under-resourced mental health care system in India has been further stretched thin during the COVID-19 crisis. The overarching insight is that there is a severe impact on the livelihoods of the poorest, most vulnerable sections of the population. Priority should be given to those who are completely dependent on their care providers. The government should have schemes for disaster management, which focus on the disabled populations in both rural and urban areas. Going forward, it is also important to provide technical knowledge to care providers so they can continue their work in emergencies and come up with best practices for such times.

Reaching more people in need
The Hans Foundation will soon be launching national programmes. “Additionally, we are looking to work in the area of corneal blindness which needs immediate attention. Lastly, we are going to launch a
new programme named IDEA – Inclusion of Divyangjan Entrepreneur Association. This programme aims to assist 5,000 PwDs in starting their own jobs and becoming entrepreneurs in the next five years. We are trying to create 1,00,000 jobs for the differently-abled people in the country. The future is to reach millions of lives more and bring a spark of positive change to them so they can change a million more lives,” says Shweta Rawat.

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