Sahyog – A Unique Village For Over A 1000 Deserted People

There are several people our society does not accept willingly. The leprosy-affected and the mentally handicapped are some of them. Imagine an entire village dedicated to them, where they can live freely and without prejudice, and receive loving care and attention from dedicated staff. This is what Sahyog Kushtha Yagna Trust in Gujarat attempts to achieve.

What is the perception about any village in India? That it would consist of a religious place, school, health center, well, small homes and many more things. There is a similar village next to Shamaliya, 27 kms along the highway from Himmatnagar to Shamlaji, Sabarkantha district. The village is known as Sahyog, and is spread over an area of 30 acre. The village is established by Sahyog Trust and the residents are suffering from leprosy. It is also home to several mentally challenged people.

One of the leprosy-affected women at Sahyog village

One of the leprosy-affected women at Sahyog village

Sahyog Kushtha Yagna Trust started its services in year 1988. In all there are 433 leprosy-afflicted persons living like a joint family and trying to fill the emptiness of their isolated life. The largest number of people suffering from leprosy come from Maharashtra, apart from them patients from Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Bengal, and Tamil Nadu live here. People and children who have been cured from leprosy also stay and study at Sahyog. There are 239 children of leprosy-affected parents residing there currently.

The virus of leprosy is similar to that of Tuberculosis and 95% of the time it does not spread. Only five out of 100 people are affected by the disease. It can be cured if proper treatment is received. The disease is about to be eradicated from the state of Gujarat. In the year 1988, 28 people out of 10000 suffered from leprosy which now exists only among 0.86 people. The national data shows 2 to 3 people out of 10000 suffering from the disease. “Credit needs to be given to the Gujarat government for bringing down the rate of leprosy in the state”, says Suresh Soni, founder of Sahyog trust.

Suresh Soni and his wife Indira, who have created and nurtured Sahyog with their own loving hands

Suresh Soni and his wife Indira, who have created and nurtured Sahyog with their own loving hands

It seems that Suresh was born to serve the leprosy affected. Born and brought up in a lower middle class family, Suresh completed MSc (Masters in Science) with a First Class, but did not want to live his life as a Maths teacher. He would stay with the leprosy affected at Shram Mandir trust for the entire day. In the year 1988, to help and give support to the affected, he founded Sahyog trust. He and his wife Indira would serve the sick and needy. The annual cost of serving people comes to around one crore and ten lakhs. The trust gets a grant of Rs. 20 lakhs from government, every year there is deficit of Rs. 92 lakhs.

The village has a hospital, an electoral booth, a primary school, a grocery shop. 30% people in the village are completely bedridden. Tea, snacks and food to these people are provided at their home by the staff. People like Abdul Mohammad Hafiz, a retired military officer, also stay happily in this environment. Many patients from all over the country come regularly to Sahyog and sometimes make it their permanent residential address. There are also a few who return to their village once they are cured.

Persons with learning disabilities and mental handicaps also find a home here.

Persons with learning disabilities and mental handicaps also find a home here.

During our visit, there was an addition of Prakash Deshmukh to the Sahyog Family. He is a resident of Kolhapur, Maharashtra. As a kid there were small patches on his body but he ignored them. When it was finally showed to a doctor, it was told that they are signs of leprosy. By then he was married and had kids. As soon as his wife came to know about this, her behavior towards him changed and soon she left him. A lot of effort was made for reconciliation but it was not successful. Prakash’s brothers also disowned him. He travelled all the way from Maharashtra to Gujarat with all the belongings he possessed.

Many people like Prakash get love and compassion from Suresh, his family and 40-45 staff of the trust. The love and affection for this people is reflected from the environment of the village. The area of 30 acre is maintained hygienically. There are beautiful paintings on the walls of each home. There is a basil plant in front of every home and a daily prayer is sung. The lines says “O almighty bless the person who has and is helping us, the place and people at our native should stay happy.”

Apart from the leprosy affected, mentally challenged people also stay at Sahyog. Suresh relates the history of including the mentally challenged to his big family. In 1994, Amri, a mentally retarded girl was raped, which culminated in her pregnancy. She stayed at women protection cell in Godhra. By then she was already 6-7 month pregnant. She was shifted to the women protection home at Vadodara and further transferred to a Mental hospital for better treatment. They refused to admit her as she was pregnant. District hospital also did the same. With the permission of director, Social Welfare and Juvenile board, she reached Sahyog Trust. Amri found a home in this place and delivered a baby boy. The boy studies at the primary school. And Amri? She shares a smile while greeting people in the village.

A person afflicted with leprosy lives with dignity at Sahyog village.

A person afflicted with leprosy lives with dignity at Sahyog village.

Today 192 male and 153 female mentally challenged have found a home at Sahyog. Apart from them, 29 visually impaired people are also looked after by the trust. The trust is working hard to make the mentally challenged independent by training them in small job. Suresh states “leprosy affected people suffer themselves, whereas mentally retarded don’t suffer, it’s their family which suffers. They can neither live nor die peacefully.”

Leprosy affected, mentally handicapped and people with other disabilities need constant love and consideration. The effort by the trust is commendable. Suresh and his team are striving to make ends meet. Anyone who wants to contribute towards the cause is welcomed. You can contact them for further information.

Writer : Sanjay Dave (Editor, Charkha-Gujarat Development Features)
Source: Charkha – Development Communication Network, Gujarat
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