Monsoon magic in Kerala!

Categories: Community Engagement.

As the people of Kerala get ready to embrace their favourite season, the monsoon, the members of the Footprints project are also weaving their dreams by making umbrellas. In the monsoon, orders for these umbrellas will also soar. Anjali Cherian, Editor of Occasional Letters (the newsletter of the Pain and Palliative Care Society, Calicut, Kerala) writes for ehospice about the Monsoon magic…

The summer heat is soaring, under the scorching sun, even the nature seems to be waiting for the cherishing pitter-patter of raindrops which embrace the lush green beauty of Kerala- the God’s own land.

Braving the heat of the days in the hottest months of April and May, the members of ‘Footprints’ are also weaving their dreams of monsoon- the season which soothes their lives. Coming after a long and hot summer, the onset of monsoon is long-awaited and a refreshing change. Quenching the thirst of the land and healing with a cool breeze, monsoon also offers members of the Footprints project- whose lives are confined to wheelchairs- a means for living. Monsoon season in Kerala is the peak time for the sale of the product they make- umbrellas.

In monsoon, the land is green and lush and the rivers are deep, full and abounding with water. Monsoon makes people joyous and as Kerala experiences this season, tourists travel far from across the country and world to get a taste of this magic! As people get ready to embrace the monsoon, orders for brightly coloured and cheerful umbrellas also continues to rise.

‘Footprints’ is a rehabilitation project by the Institute of Palliative Medicine (Kozhikode, Kerala) to integrate chronically ill, bedridden and chronic psychiatric patients back in to the community by teaching them new crafts and skills. Patients make a range of items including umbrellas, jewellery, paper bags and flower vases, and these products are marketed and sold under the brand name ‘Footprints’.

More than 200 patients are involved with this ambitious project which aims to rehabilitate patients rather than focus on sales volume or profit margin. As many of the patients are paraplegic and confined to bed, many find even the simplest jobs hard. Penniless, most find themselves to be unemployable. Some are even shunned by their families and are prone to be suicidal, and almost all are lonely and hidden within the confines of their homes. Attending one of the training camps offered by ‘Footprints’ is a challenge for most patients.

By identifying these individuals and giving them a reason to come out of their shadows, the team at the Footprints project aim to boost morale and thereby improve the quality of life of these people.

Associations between the patient and the team at the Footprints Rehabilitation Project are a continuous process. In the first stage, vocational training camps are organized for patients registered with the project. The team remains in touch with patients even after the camps have ended, encouraging them to continue utilizing this skill.

The team continues their support by supplying raw materials and finds a market for finished products. Gradually, as the patient is engaged, living their life becomes easier for themselves and those around them. As they begin to work and earn, they once again believe that they have something to do in life and a role to fulfil in their family.

Although workshops for umbrellas start as early as February or March every year, a more concentrated effort is seen in the months preceding the monsoon season. At that time at least two camps are organized every month to make umbrellas.

The number of umbrellas a patient completes in a day depends upon his ability and capacity. While some patients take one day to finish one or two umbrellas, others complete 15 or 20 umbrellas in a day. All the umbrellas are well-designed, functional and attractive. They are also weatherproof and light. Compact when folded, each umbrella can easily fit two people when opened. The umbrellas come in a number of bright colours like blue, green, violet, red, pink etc. and all carry the Footprints logo. In case of large corporate orders, the company logo can also be printed on the umbrella.

We are thankful to TATA Trust for their financial assistance to run this project and all the companies and institutions, especially Steel Complex Limited (SCL), State Bank of India (SBI), Calicut Press Club, LIC Employees Union etc. for supporting the rehabilitation project by buying the products. Their large corporate orders have provided an incentive for Footprints members to continue and have also helped in spreading the word about the project to other companies and the public. Pleased with the quality of the work executed, they have promised to continue this association with us.

We also receive a lot of support from society, i.e.: the general public, who have helped over the years to spread awareness about the project. Supportive of various products and handicrafts made by patients, it is their enthusiasm that encourages patients to reaffirm a commitment of faith in the organization. Visiting exhibitions and coming to the Footprints office, it is these loyal customers that help to sustain and promote this project.

Student volunteers: the success of the project

One of the key components of this support comes from students in various colleges. Enrolling themselves as Footprints volunteers, many have dedicated their lives to helping these patients. Maintaining a cohesive relationship, they encourage patients to join workshops and motivate them to continue using these skills.

They also help to sell the finished products and have conducted many exhibitions in their colleges. Recently an exhibition at the Government Dental College, Calicut, earned over Rs. 40 000 in one day, the largest sales ever for the Footprints project.

It is this generosity of spirit that teaches us all how much we can do for those less fortunate and in need.

Although the Footprints Rehabilitation Project is fortunate to have such a large support base (i.e.: the general public, students, institutions, companies etc.), it is our hope that we multiply this support in the future. We are also keen to expand so that we can help rehabilitate many more patients. We are looking at ways to improve existing products and look forward to adding new products and collaborations.

Our current association with ‘Uravu’ in Wynad has yielded many positive results and our patients have learned to make pens, key chains, mobile stands, clips etc. using bamboo. We are also interested that our patients learn to make products like cushions, bags, table mats, files, boxes etc. using screwpine leaves, and we are working towards starting a collaboration with a new partner. This will help us enter new markets and reach new customers.

Contact the Footprints project vi aemail on:

Also visit the website of the Institute of Palliative Medicine.

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