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Self help groups in India for women with disabilities

Group of Indian women joining together in learning of printing sarees.
© SMCSI
Beautiful sarees form the backdrop of women and clients working together at the designing unit set up in South India. This mental health programme is supported by CBM at S.M.C.S.I. Medical College.

CBM partner Dr. Somervell Memorial CSI Mission Hospital organises self help groups for women with psychosocial disabilities in Kerala, South India. Community workers are recruited from their own neighbourhood adding to the sense of ownership by the group members. This concept is the culmination of a long track laid out by CBM and partners since the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Coming together

On the banks of the Arabian Sea, in a hamlet on the Kerala coast, a group of women have a common purpose at the designer house. This purpose is coming together, no matter what the barriers.

Agnes' story - ‘one of everyone’

Three women choosing dye for the sari ©SMCSI
In a small hamlet on the Kerala coast, South India, Agnes (left) chooses the colours for the day, at the sari designing unit
One of them, Agnes (name changed) has been on the fringes of society, having had epilepsy from an early age. She stays at home and only occasionally ventures out for shopping. She has been politely but firmly excluded out of many a group in the area, as she is considered ‘ill’ and ‘different’.

But this has changed recently. For about one year, she has been part of a group involved in block printing sarees, cloth pieces and caps. It is a joy to watch the beautiful patterns emerging through their handiwork. For Agnes, it is a new experience to make trips, not to buy things, but to create something for others in the village.

Agnes cherishes the time spent with this group of women, some with psychosocial illness, some caregivers and other people of her village. The group is mainly made of women from the village, and they are welcoming to Agnes. Acceptance is a precious gift that is out of the reach for many in Agnes position.

Ponny’s story - feeling creative and useful

Three Indian women with smiling face sees the print pattern in the sari ©SMCSI
Ponny (left) smiles as she watches patterns emerge at the sari designing unit
Ponny (name changed) whose son died unexpectedly four years ago, has remained lifeless since her loss. She has been keeping to herself and rarely engages with the outside world anymore. However, following contact with the community outreach services of SMCSI Medical College, she has slowly shown signs of recovery. One of the things that have propelled her healing along has been the group. It is with a quiet, but proud smile that she watches patterns appear on the cloth!

The group provides an avenue for sharing stories, and for feeling creative and useful. Ponny has learnt to smile again since joining the group.

The supportive system

The group has been guided by trained community mental health workers recruited from their own neighbourhood. This only adds to the sense of ownership by the group members. The community worker has been an enthusiastic trainer, as well as a good neighbour.

Clients are also able to access the mental health services provided by the mental health team in the community and, at times of crisis, at the teaching hospital.  The trained workers are able to coordinate and be involved at all levels of care, visiting the clients at home, ensuring attendance to community clinics, coordinating crisis admissions and most of all, promoting social and economic inclusion.

The mental health team, at SMCSI Medical College and CBM are happy to have had the opportunity to enable Agnes, and others like her, to access a place in the mainstream of village life. This has required courage, persistence, and at times fighting against many odds.

The long term vision - disaster to victory

This journey is the culmination of a long track laid out by CBM and SMCSI Medical College in the context of the 2004 tsunami. Long term sustainability was our focus with post emergency work transforming into a long term intervention for people with psychosocial disabilities – an oft-forgotten section of society.

Read more about SMCSI

Programme Dr. Somervell Memorial CSI Mission Hospital comprehensive rehabilitation project

A programme providing services for people with disability in prevention, treatment and rehabiliation through CBR approach in Kerala, India.

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