Sight for the Sightless

Tucked away in a bylane near the archaeological site Gilbert Hill at Andheri West is Andhakkshi Ashram. For the people here, their condition is not a deterrent. However they may be, they still strive to live their lives like anyone else would do.As you enter Andhakkshi Ashram, you are greeted with smiles of children and women. Andhakkshi Ashram is a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) that provides shelter to abandoned women and children.Fatima Vengurlekar, the 56-year old dedicated director gave up a career as an airhostess for Air India to pursue her inner calling – service to people. Prior to Andhakkshi Ashram, she served as a volunteer in many organisations. “Whatever you may do in life, nothing gives you more fulfilment than serving people,” says Vengurlekar.

Andhakkshi Ashram was started 1937 as a rehabilitation centre for women with schizophrenia. However, today the organisation provides shelter to destitute, blind, mentally challenged and HIV + women and children. The organisation is run by the trust The Association for the Relief and Education for the Street and Needy Blind Indian Female. “Andhakkshi that means sight for the sightless, currently houses about 40 women and children,” says Vengurlekar.

Most of the inmates at Andhakkshi Ashram are mentally challenged and have been abandoned by their families. An example is Prabha who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and was abandoned by her family. After Prabha took to the streets, she was picked up a social worker and taken to Andhakkshi Ashram in 2002 where she was rehabilitated. Prabha is employed as a cook and that is her source of income. “Even though I am still on medication, my family respects me now because I give money at home and I am productive,” says Prabha.

Most of the women and children, says Vengurlekar, come from well to do families. Because of their mental illness, their families consider them as a liability and are ashamed to care for them. The criterion for admitting women and children into this home is that they have to be either blind, mentally challenged or HIV+. “The organisation provides many facilities that help inmates to get educated and gain skills for life that will help them earn a decent living thus making them independent,” says Vengurlekar. Anshakkshi Ashram gives these children an opportunity to live there, attend special schools and have other requirements met.

Four months back, the organisation has started Andhakkshi School that provides functional therapy for fine motor coordination. They also offer Speech Therapy for the speech and hearing impaired and Occupational Therapy to maximise the skills and ability of the differently-abled. A recent addition to the facilities is Chromotherapy (also known as colour therapy) that uses colour and light to balance energy wherever a persons body is lacking whether physical, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. “Through this physically, they feel better as their pains/aches are reduced and their immunity levels increase. Mentally and emotionally they feel secure, safe and strong. Their anger and irritability is reduced,” says Vengurlekar.

Andhakshi is dedicated to the mental and spiritual health of women and children using medication as well as alternative therapies. To widen their horizons and to reach out to more people, there is a Sacred space in Andhakshi which gives mental, emotional and spiritual guidance to people. This sacred space offers sessions and classes of alternative therapies, stress management courses, group and individual counselling and so on.

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