CHENNAI: Spinal cord injury can happen to anyone at any time, as it did to me. It is not a rare condition. The statistics in the US show that one (spinal cord injury) happens every 38 minutes; more than 18,000 injuries every year in the US alone. In the tiny country of Ireland, which probably has half the population of Tamil Nadu, there are three cases every week. But, in India, a woman like me, we don’t even have the luxury of being a statistic. We don’t know how many injuries happen every year — how many to men, how many to women. We don’t know what happens to them when they leave the hospital. The unfortunate truth is that, once they leave the hospital, nothing much happens,” narrates Preethi Srinivasan, to a gathering of the members of the Duchess Club at Savera Hotel on Monday morning.
Helping with holistic healing
In the absence of a family that can afford to support them (physically and financially), women with such severe disability are either left on the streets or pushed into killing themselves, points out Preethi, who is a wheelchair user of over 20 years since she was rendered a quadriplegic after a freak accident. Especially given that holistic treatment (by means of physiotherapy and traditional alternatives) are far from reach. It was this that Preethi’s organisation — Soulfree — has been trying to address since its inception in 2013.
Over the years, the organisation has built upon its reach and is now supporting 1,000 families of people with spinal injuries and below poverty line. But, Soulfree’s real breakthrough came this year, when they were allotted a 16,000 sq ft space in Tiruvannamalai (her hometown) to build India’s first INSPIRE (Integrated Spinal Rehabilitation) centre. “There are very few organisations working with spinal cord injuries; even among that, there are very few supporting women’s efforts. In that, there are fewer still, if any, which are working in an integrated way. They all offer only allopathy treatment; for spinal cord injuries, allopathy has very little to offer. But, a person with spinal cord injuries reaches us at an early stage, we can help them psychologically and spiritually, allowing them to regain their sense of self. And through art and music and other kinds of integrated, holistic treatment programmes like ayurvedic massage and water therapy, we want to get them healed from within and without,” shares Preethi.
Amid such efforts, Preethi wants to do her part in dispelling the fears of efficacy around ‘alternative’ treatments. “These so-called alternatives are the traditional Indian treatment systems that have been in place for thousands of years longer than allopathy. They have stood the test of time. In this particular scenario, where standardised western medicine has nothing to offer, these traditional systems perhaps can offer more as they are non-invasive and work with the entire body-mind mechanism. This way, they (people with spinal cord injuries) have only everything to gain and nothing to lose,” she surmises.
Work that inspires
The meet with the women of the Duchess Club was a small step in the long awareness effort that lies ahead of Preethi to get INSPIRE up and running. “Like Duchess Club, Soulfree is also an organisation that works to empower women, especially the most vulnerable segment of women. So I hope to find some souls who are touched by the work we are doing and automatically become a part of the Soulfree family and begin supporting our cause. Soulfree is a small organisation with little or no contacts in the outside world. It is through this kind of interaction that we hope to spread the word about our work. People need to know about it to support it, right?” she reasons. By the end of the hour-long interaction, where Preethi shared stories of her injury, her highly athletic life before and her work in the space of disability rights since, Savera Hotel, the Duchess Club and members in their individual capacity had stepped forward to contribute to the cause.
To contribute to Soulfree’s projects (including INSPIRE centre) or offer your time or resources as a volunteer, visit the website: soulfree.org