Living Lens are proud to be part of a Learning Trip on Social Entrepreneurship in India. We are with a group of people from all over the world who are social entrepreneurs, investors in social enterprise or working in business, and interested in moving into social enterprise. We are visiting social enterprises and are gaining a real insight into the way they work. To give you an example here is an account from Amy following one of our visits.
I visited Anjali on the second day of this trip, so everything is still feeling very new and exciting. After a brief introduction by the founder, Ratnaboli Ray, we were split into groups to visit the hospitals where they work. Anjali work in partnership with the Indian Government to improve the conditions of patients in the mental hospitals of Kolkata and working towards reintegrating patients into their communities where possible. The hospital I visited was Lumbini, a government hospital for both men and women with psychosocial disabilities housed in a residential building in Kolkata. We were told that the patients who attend the Anjali workshops in the hospital were expecting us and looking forward to our visit. What we saw when we entered the building was shocking beyond anything I had ever seen before. The men’s ward consisted of beds side by side with little or no gaps in between them. The plastic mattresses had no sheets and some were torn with the foam coming out. We didn’t go into the women’s ward, but from what I could see the conditions were not much better. The room where Anjali hold their workshops is part dining hall, part open space and part dump for old beds and mattresses that were decaying and gathering dust and rubbish. However, there were cleans mats laid out in the open space for us and the Anjali participants to sit on. We joined their circle and before long the images of the wards and the state of the hospital vanished as were serenaded with beautiful poetry, song and dance. Poems about freedom and about the homes that they no longer see. Each person had a different talent to show us. Some of the people who presented to us seemed, to me, like they would be capable of living in the community with some support, but instead they were imprisoned in this under funded and under equipped hospital. As we left one women ran up to us with her food tray in hand, she said something in Bengali and I asked the worker to translate, she had said: “ I want to go home”.
I was particularly impressed with Ratnaboli Ray’s decision to work in partnership with the Government in order to make lasting changes that would continue to be implemented and developed. Anjali’s work goes beyond the hospitals. As well as advocacy within the government, their work is now being lead by women in communities who having undergone intensive training through Anjali. These women are leading the campaign to bring awareness to the issue and informing on how people with psychosocial disabilities do not necessarily need to be kept in mental health hospitals but with the right support and treatment can remain in or return to their homes and their own communities.
It was both a shocking and inspiring experience for me. The image of the hospital will stay with me and is not something I think or hope I will ever come across in the UK. However, as someone who works with vulnerable people in the UK I was excited and inspired at how forward thinking Anjali are in their methodology. Their work is not only innovative, it is sustainable in that it is a model that not only alleviates trauma and develops creativity in individuals but is also creating leaders in communities to change the way people think about mental health in India.