Helping others is bliss for Indian Magsaysay winnerThousands of mentally ill people living rough on India's streets have been reunited with their families
Magsaysay winner Bharat Vatwani and wife Smitha in their office. (Photo by Priscilla Pinto/ucanews.com)
Chance encounter Vatwani's work began through a chance encounter with a schizophrenic man 30 years ago. While he and wife were dining at a restaurant in Mumbai, they saw a thin, unkempt man on the street. "His behavior and mannerisms left us in no doubt that he had schizophrenia," Vatwani said. "As we watched him, he picked up an empty coconut shell from the road and scooped out some gutter water with it to drink." After talking to the man, the couple took him to their clinic to be washed and treated. Following a couple of months of treatment, he was united with his family in Andhra Pradesh of southern India. Vatwani's spontaneous empathy was not surprising since he knew what poverty was like. He lost his father when he was barely 12. He and siblings were forced to do odd jobs, such as peddling books door-to-door. Struggling as a self-supporting student, Vatwani successfully completed his studies in psychiatry in Mumbai. The satisfaction from helping the schizophrenic man outside the restaurant prompted the couple to take other mentally-ill street dwellers to their private clinic in Mumbai. And they started the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation in 1988. The two-room foundation drew public attention when it rescued and treated a well-known art professor suffering from schizophrenia, who was wandering on Mumbai's roads for more than two years. Vatwani also fought for him to get his job back. This triggered an overwhelming response from art students, who organized an art exhibition that raised more than US$22,000 for Vatwani's project. The money helped him start a 20-bed rehabilitation centre in the suburb of Dahisar. However, locals took court action to block the center, claiming members of 'normal society' would be disturbed "We were on the verge of giving up our work," Vatwani said. "Then the Mumbai High Court ruled in our favor, saying the mentally ill deserve to be a part of society and could not be removed." In 2006, with the help of private donors, volunteer professionals and social workers, the Vatwanis moved to a larger, 120-patient facility in Karjat outside Mumbai, with five buildings on a 6.5-acre site. Here, the couple strengthened their three-phase program consisting of the rescue and treatment of mentally-ill street dwellers, reuniting patients with their families and promoting community awareness on mental health issues. The Karjat center currently accommodates 81 men and 46 women who are cared by 36 paid staff, including nine nurses, two doctors and two ambulance drivers. "We do what we do because it gives us what Hindus call Nirvana," Vatwani said. "It means internal bliss."
2018 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee BHARAT VATWANI (India) restored the health and dignity of India's mentally-afflicted destitute.https://t.co/rMMeJ3LrM4— RamonMagsaysayAward (@rmafoundation) August 8, 2018
This is what we call Greatness of Spirit.
This is Asia.#RamonMagsaysayAward pic.twitter.com/9A8xY18inv
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