Unsung Angels:Pune, Bangalore, Bombay

CAPRG thanks TOI / TNN for bringing to notice the unsung heroes and heroines to public notice.


Laxmi Birajdar | TNN

For more information, contact Rugnamitra on 020-66093200/201.


Ramakant Kulkarni (right) and Vilas Vaidya

with a patient at the hospital

A patient in critical condition rushed to the Sanjeevan Hospital, off Karve road, requires immediate help. What eases the tension when the ambulance reaches the hospital is a small desk just at the entrance. Senior citizens manning it not only help the patient get admitted, but also arrange for immediate blood and other medical requirements.

They are members of Rugnamitra, a voluntary help desk started by social worker, Ramakant Kulkarni on December 15, 2003. Its eight-odd members have been staying put during peak hours at the hospital, lending support to patients and visitors.

From providing instant information to needy patients, coordinating with the hospital and the blood banks for blood and other medical facilities, they do it all, free of cost, from 8 am to 1.30 pm and from 4 pm to 6 pm, six days a week.

Kulkarni, a former helper at the Hindustan Antibiotics, has been lending a helping hand at Niwara old age home. Since 1987, Kulkarni has been admitting patients to Sanjeevan. “I came to know all the people in the hospital and I informed the authorities of the need to have a help desk, for supplying instant information to the needy,” says 77-year-old Kulkarni on the genesis of Rugnamitra.

A friend to a ‘rugna’ or patient, is a ‘rugnamitra,’ he says with a bright smile. And he’s been at his charitable best right since his youth.

When Kulkarni was 15-yearsold, he had admitted his neighbour, an ailing grandmother, to a hospital during the last stages of her illness. She didn’t survive and Kulkarni had to arrange the money for her funeral since her family members were not available.

“Money was short and I had to literally beg for the funeral expenses. That was my first experience with death. Since then, I’ve felt the need to help anyone suffering from illness,” says Kulkarni.

This incident led Kulkarni to widen his philanthropic horizon. Until a few years ago, he was busy conducting several blood donation camps. “A bevy of blood donors would be ready to donate blood when the need arose. And to this day, I have a list of donors, especially of rare blood groups,” says Kulkarni.

He is also one of the co-founders of Hridaymitra, a voluntary organisation to help those suffering from heart ailments. And on the insistence of his well-wishers, who he has befriended over the year, Kulkarni even helped found an old age home in Belgaum.

For the last four decades, he has also been coordinating for patients between doctors and leading hospitals in the city. Not just that, he is a registered body donor at the BJ Medical College. Kulkarni even donated Rs 18 lakh to the Sanjeevan Hospital, recently.

But manning the Rugnamitra counter is currently his prime concern. Along with fellow volunteer, Vilas Vaidya, Kulkarni knows how to provide immediate help. “Go out of your way to help those in need, but never expect anything in return. Only selfless dedication works here,” says 64-year-old Vaidya.

Five years of dedicated service has led to an enthusiastic response among the patients and medical fraternity. “That’s why we need more ward boys and volunteers who can be of service to the patients,” says Vaidya.
For more information, contact Rugnamitra on 020-66093200/201.


COMPUTER SAVVY: These training sessions are a passport to a better life for these women

Women from the socially disadvantaged section usually bear the brunt of unemployment and lack skills to forge ahead in their lives. But impart some skills to them, and watch their confidence grow as they land jobs and make a new life for themselves.

This is what the Rashtriya Sikshana Samithi Trust’s Centre for Women’s Empowerment and Skills Training (WEST) on Mysore Road has been doing for the past two years.

“We started WEST in 2006 to provide such women training in computer skills,’’ said principal, S C Sharma. Now, rural as well as urban women come here and undergo electronic data processing training. Some are homemakers, others discontinued their studies. Last year, even destitute women were part of the programme.

The free programme is held once every three months with 20 students each time. Around 3,000 women have been trained.
What’s advantageous is that the centre is located at R V College of Engineering and hence,can avail the best of laboratories and other facilities.

One of the objectives of the centre is to enable the women to be self-employed and to motivate them to be self-confident. The objectives have been met in most cases.The transformation is obvious.

The women already feel empowered. Says Sudha, a homemaker, “I wanted to learn computer, but knew nothing about it.” That was before she enrolled for the programme. Two months into it and she claims, “I can teach my kids now.’’

Many such women have now secured jobs in companies as data entry operators earning Rs 3,000 and above. And some were afraid of computers not so long ago.
R V Centre for women’s empowerment and skills
Contact: R V College of Engineering, Mysore Road, Bangalore 560059

Phone: 080 67178074


This apartment is their safe haven

Joeanna Rebello I TNN


Even UK singer, Amy Winehouse, who has been in and out of rehab centres, wouldn’t find too many faults with this one. The drug de-addiction centre, housed in the 105-yearold Roosevelt House, Colaba, doesn’t conform to the stereotypical image of a sterile, white-sheeted, metal-bedded rehabilitation station.

For starters, Jeevan Dhara has no beds. The room is a wood-panelled throwback to 1960s interior design, and on the second floor, a once 4,000 sq ft apartment—a luxury in spacecrunched Mumbai—has been halved to make room for a 20-patient rehab centre.

Fr Richard Lane Smith, whose family moved to Roosevelt House in 1945, wanted to volunteer half his apartment to a more noble cause, rather than simply renting it out to well-heeled tenants. It was when Gene D’Souza, director of the non-profit organisation, Jeevan Dhara (of which Fr Smith is chairman), suggested they make room for recovering drug and alcohol addicts, that the space found its vocation.

In the centre of the room, a tablecloth performs the function of a rug; six users, who are battling alcohol and drug addiction, sit cross-legged on matching placemats. A man, who could pass off as a village school master, addresses the group. “This too shall pass,’’ he says. That is the lesson of the day. He’s Sharad Deshpande, the home’s inhouse counsellor, who kicked the habit after a 25-year struggle.

“How do you regain respect in society? In your own home? How many crimes has addiction made you commit?’’ he asks. This is probably the closest most of the patients have come to a classroom.

”Look at me,’’ he says “I’ve been clean for nine years by taking it one day at a time.’’
Deshpande has trained himself to help addicts, and is a mentor to the people in the centre. “It’s easy to say that you’ll give up the habit tomorrow; but now you’ve got to say, ‘I’ll abstain from it, starting today’.

Addiction is not curable, but it is conquerable.’’

He draws out the words for emphasis: “It is possible.’’

“We locate addicts in Mankhurd, Kurla, Govandi and Chembur, and ask them if they want help with their problem,’’ says D’Silva, who emphasises that admittance is voluntary, and preference is given to the destitute, especially those suffering from TB and HIV.

Volunteers are taken to Bhardawadi Hospital in Andheri for detoxification, following which they are escorted to Colaba for a month-long rehab.

They live in the centre for the period, but don’t pay rent. All they need to do is follow a daily regimen that begins at 6am. Prayer sessions,time-out for physical exercise, group and individual counselling sessions, recreation time, and doing home chores are all part of the healing process. While a physician visits them on a weekly basis to administer to their physical health, the counsellor lives with the addicts, to support and help them through the process. “They get especially restless by evening, when they crave their daily fix,’’ says Deshpande.

But the rehab centre is not dark or gloomy. Sunlight filters through unimpeded, and a light breeze does the rounds. Here, they live as they would at a chummery. The men lounge on cane chairs in the sun-lit verandah, play cards, carom or table tennis. When they want to rest, they pull out their mat and bedding, and lie down. A cable TV serves to distract the patients from their cravings. “We give them a quota of 10 bidis every day,’’ says Gene. “You can’t take away every addiction at once.’’

Once the month is up, and they’re more confident of stepping back into the real world, Jeevan Dhara tries finding them gainful employment. Many choose to work for the NGO, and help other users with their struggle.

A recovered addict, Naushad, is the cook, and spends the better part of the day in the kitchen. Today, the menu is fish curry and rice. The night guard, Oswald, another addict on the mend, helps Naushad prepare the fish. Downstairs, the day watchman, 58-year-old Syed Ali, guards the entrance from vagrants, and stops them from skulking into the building to shoot up. Ali has just completed treatment for TB, and is on a cocktail of medicines that keeps AIDS at bay.

For this band of blood brothers, the fight against their affliction is the common bond that keeps them together, the centre is their salvation.


The addictive potency of drugs varies from substance to substance and from individual to individual
Codeine or alcohol requires many more exposures to addict its users than drugs such as heroin or cocaine

A person who is psychologically or genetically predisposed to addiction is more likely to suffer from it. In the US, most psychologists do not consider dependency on hallucinogens like LSD to be addictive

BRIGHT FUTURE: Addicts live in the centre and follow the month-long treatment

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