Today we went to visit an organization called ‘The Banyan’ that provides care for people in India that struggle with homelessness, poverty, or mental disabilities. We had the chance to meet many of those who have taken refuge there, while also receiving a presentation from some of the founders about the organization itself. The women mentioned how many people all over India seem to end up in Chennai searching for the kind of help that The Banyan provides, as Chennai rests at the bottom of India, and is therefore one of the last stops on the train. Their community is therefore in an ideal location, and they are better able to make the change needed. They shared a few stories about some of the people who had found their way to the home, here is an example:
This woman left her home in search of help due to her discomfort with her mental illness, and was on the road searching for sanctuary for 15 years. By the time she finally discovered The Banyan organization, she had forgotten what her village was like, or where exactly it was; over 15 years the village would have undergone significant development, also making it harder for her to recognize her birth place. She stayed at the Banyan home for quite a while, until she received the attention and care she needed to gain her confidence and discover her self worth. She then decided that she wanted to find her home again; she still had a daughter and family. The organization helped her search for her village, using landmarks she remembered to narrow down the possibilities. After days of searching, they began to give up as they saw no sign of this village. The woman got back on the train with the Banyan representatives, defeated and ready to go back to Chennai. However they were stopped by a man on a bike who swore he recognized her, and ended up taking her to her straight to her home. She noticed decorations covering the house, as she walked in with a small sewn dress that she had made for her daughter, thinking she was the same size as when she last saw her. It was her daughter’s wedding. The woman’s picture was hung on the wall with flowers covering it, as they expected she was dead. The Banyon has given her the confidence and support she needed to remain strong, and she was once again reunited with her family.
The organization often struggles with convincing women that taking refuge within their community is a good thing, and should be accepted as okay. For the first two years after the Banyan began, they labelled themselves as a medical center, as to appear acceptable for anyone in need of help, and gain the trust of the locals. However after this, they began to treat mental disabilities specifically. From the stories they told about the women who have taken refuge there, it seems as though by convincing the women to accept care, they leave feeling empowered in more than one way. The women learn to put their opinions forth and liberate themselves, as the community not only offers treatment, but also education, and things like how to sew, cook, weave, etc. This is so that when the women leave this small community, they are able to earn a living and survive well in the larger communities around them. A small example of this increase in confidence and evidence of women empowerment is when they bring in clothing that has been donated to the women in the community, and they insist on having each item of clothing tailored to their liking.