Sunday, January 24, 2010

Plump delicious models

It might be clear from the title that this blog post is not going to be describing the latest exploits of Agness Deyn or even that of the so called plus-sized ladies being touted in recent newspapers whose curves are as slightly undulating as the terrain in Norfolk; no, this post as all about the wonderful examples of mental health and development models I have been sampling over the last few days at RUHSA. I have fitted so much in that I am not able to keep up and note everything down. I am therefore leading a schizophrenic life – staying at Celine’s (more later) but still catching up with the last couple of days in Vellore which as mentioned have passed in a whirling fury. Keelalathur is as mentioned, but there is also another elderly welfare project under way which is a slightly different model. Latest developments at Kavasampet are that there is netting being organised to put over the yard area to protect it from monkeys. One woman wants to have a vegetable shop, so she is going to use the area to grow vegetables, some of which will be used to make lunch for the elderly, the rest she can sell. This makes the Kovasampet model more proactive and sustainable than the Keelalathur model because they are generating some of their own food from the assets of the centre. We will see how that evolves. Also, a woman from the UK charity Friends of Vellore, having heard all about the elderly projects and having visited one of the centres in December, came back in order to gather some stories about the participants. I look forward to hearing about those and hope that they generate some charitable donations, so the centres can start raising money to keep them going.

However, moving on from the elderly models I also spent a lot of time looking at several mental health models and discussing our plans for community mental health asset mapping and resource development. Firstly, we went to the Worth Trust which is a school, Technical college and Factory all on one campus which schools, trains and employs children and adults with learning difficulties or visual or hearing impairments. It has been set up since 1963. The aspect we wanted to see the most was the children’s day centre where children with mixed abilities came for daily schooling and activities with their parents. This centre has only been running for 3 years. They make less of a distinction about adults and children as the oldest participant is 28. But the key aspect is that their main carers, usually their mothers are co-therapists and are there to be trained as well, with the aim that they can become more independent. There is no time limit for attending and so far few have actually left the classes and progressed, but the idea of co-training the carers and the child is the model we wish to partly use.

After that, we went to see an extraordinary woman, Mrs Catherine, who as the mother of a young man with severe learning difficulties, was so depressed by the lack of options for her son, that she started a school for children with learning difficulties not once, but twice. When her son was not much older than a year, he developed brain fever - probably encephalitis. Despite taking him to the best hospitals, he was undiagnosed for 3 weeks. When he was eventually diagnosed, he had substantial brain damage. She did not understand, probably because she was not clearly told, that he would have severe developmental delay and would have permenant mental disability. As he grew older in body without growing older in skill, she took him around the country trying to find out what was wrong with him. The brain fever was over, why was he like this? Doctors wherever she went failed to explain to her the significance and meaning of his condition. After several years, at last someone explained to her so she understood. She became deeply depressed and, despite having a strong faith, berated God for allowing this to happen to her. For a long time she wept, unable to think or believe in anything. Then she realised. If no-one else was going to do anything for her son, she would, so she enrolled in college, acquired a BA in social work, went back to work to earn money, learnt about the needs of the mentally disabled and, raising an extraordinary amount of money, built and started her own school, for which she won a civic award. Unfortunately, getting this award made the governers of the school jealous, so they squeezed her out. She fell back into an intractable depression. After some time of no imporovement in his wife's mental state, her husband realised that her welfare depended on her running a school for mentally challenged children. He lobbied politicians and spent all his savings and bought a plot of land on which to build another school. This was opened 4 years ago.

Her son is now 21 and is still completely dependent, but he lies, happily, on a rush mat in the corner smiling indiscriminately at the activity around him and the attention he gets. Catharine told me how much she loves these children. Her every waking thought is about these children with their special needs and sometimes she even dreams about them.

“They love me too, and call me Amma. I am so happy, if my own son cannot call me Amma then let these children call me.”

Catharine is clearly extraordinary, but the model of mental health which Rita and Annie are trying to set up aims to find other women like this and Catharine is a fabulous role model to show what can be done. Not only that but she has a wealth of experience in grass roots community activity and management of mental disability. She too uses parents as co-therapists. She even uses some mothers as other workers, for example in the kitchen. And, best of all, she gets mothers carrying out therapy on other children too. She is not only an inspiration to other women, but will also be a useful ally to RUHSA in developing the model for sustainable community mental care.

1 comment:

Sally Whittingham said...

My god Arabella, what an amazing story of Mrs Catherine. You had explained to us something of the model where the mothers are trained as co-trainers, but the story of what she did, twice over, is awe-inspiring. Next time we oome back I am going to make a point of visiting her school.