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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The silent battle for an empathetic society !!!

Mr. Kanaka Das is a paraplegic living in a remote area in the out skirts of Calicut city, Kerala, with his wife and two children. He started as an auto rickshaw driver and from an early age was the  only earning member of his poor family.
He was only 28 when he met with an accident that confined his life to the four walls of a small room.
The day he stopped earning Kanaka Das felt he was a burden to his family; and it didn’t help that he was bed-ridden and dependent on medication for his survival. Deeply saddened by the  treatment he received from society and even from his own family, he felt depressed and isolated. Remembering those dark days, Kanaka Das reminisces,“There was no one to hear me, nobody to share my emotions with. I was not even able to comfortably sit in a wheel chair”. 

Identifying the social needs of patients like  Kanaka Das, the Institute of Palliative Medicine (IPM), Calicut conceived Project ‘Footprints’ for the social and vocational rehabilitation of chronically ill patients of the city.
The unique experiment by the imaginative stake holders of the institute was to run the project utilizing the skills that these chronically ill patients have and leveraging the untapped energy of the vibrant student population of the city- an experiment first of its kind ever.
The expected out come of the project was to change the mindset of the chronically ill from ‘burden to asset’ in the eyes of the family and to restore their social esteem by encouraging them to be self-reliant and independent.
The project was announced through media to register maximum patients within the city limits and student volunteers were mobilized from all campuses within the city to be involved with the project.
The pilot project was launched was April 2010 by organizing a workshop at IPM for the patients.
Student volunteers poured in.  They came for many reasons, Some of them came just as a relief  bunking lectures, some came with a view to score marks as part of the Compulsory Social Service scheme which is a part of their curriculum, some came just to hang out with friends, a few of them out of curiosity and many of them with genuine interest.

Kanaka Das was one of the 30 patients registered for the workshop. The emotionally shattered Das was not willing to participate in any of the programmes. He had lost faith and confidence in himself and thought nothing could change his life.
While the other patients were trying to make a painting that the volunteers were teaching them to, Das was sitting still completely lost.

The student volunteers were touched by the story of Das who was once a very active man both socially and politically. They deliberately started spending more time with him as they wanted him to draw something. Their relentless attempts helped Das gain confidence in himself and he slowly started opening up and mingling with others. On the third day of the camp, Das came up with a beautiful painting which became the centre of attraction among the participants of the workshop.

A painting which is filled with emotions of a man who dared to fight his fate after being   imprisoned to his bed for years, seeing only the barren roof and dirty walls of a dark room. A painting that encouraged hundreds of young students to make creative interventions in the society, to add life to the days of many more who were in pain.

The first workshop made both us and the students realize the potential of the student community. Now they are the major players in many of the palliative care programs organized by the institute. They are organized under the banner ‘Students in Palliative Care’ (SIPC). The concrete task of the organisation is  to organise adequate and affordable support programs for the bed ridden, the incurably ill and the dying people in the city and to ensure the involvement of students in patient care and rehabilitation programs by mobilizing local community, volunteers, material and financial resources.

On a personal note, I feel blessed to be the facilitator for these young change makers and it is unquestionably one of the best things happened to me.

Some initiatives by SIPC

·        Project ‘Footprints’
A project aimed at the social and economical rehabilitation of the chronically ill. Here the  patients are brought to the camps arranged at Institute of Palliative Medicine where they learn various skills including painting, art work, clay modeling, making paper bags, ornaments, flowers and umbrellas.
The team members supply raw materials and arrange support system for marketing.
The organization sees “Footprints” as a way to encourage patients to active life. It is interesting to see the students staying with the patients , even taking them to the wash rooms.

·        “Kayyoppu”
A signature campaign organized to brighten the days of patients who are suffering by creating awareness on palliative care and raising resources from the community.
The campaign was organized from January 1st – 15th, 2010. Over one lakh people expressed solidarity by endorsing their names. The campaign also conducted a week long cultural extravaganza that concluded on January 20th, 2010 with a night of musical fusion by Mattannoor Shankaran Kutty , the famous percussionist from Kerala. The campaign raised a sum of Rs. Two lakh for the pain and palliative care society in the city.

·        A seminar – “Palliative care in campus”
On February 20th, 2010, nearly 700 students from various colleges in the city gathered at providence Women’s College, Kozhikode, Kerala to pledge support for developing palliative care initiatives in the city. Students discussed and planned to launch the project 10/10 - volunteers will spend 10 minutes per day for patient care/homecare/rehabilitation activities/awareness creation ( They can spend one our per week instead of 10 minutes per day) and raise 10 rupee for palliative care /day.

SIPC is now a broad platform of the vibrant young generation battling for the construction of an integral and empathetic society. The organization is emerging as a silent social revolution by the young, amidst the present day youth which believes progress can only be portrayed in the form of giant glass malls. The organization believes in the eternal power which comes out of the unconditional and hearty human relations. SIPC stands united to constructively envisage change.

It is exciting to watch those young students discovering their passion themselves and enjoying the deeper meaning of life. The simple philosophy that drives the force is ‘give n take’.

"We are like banana plants which keep falling as they grow. These students support us to keeps us straight and firm", said Mr. Kumaran, a paraplegic and an inmate of the rehabilitation camp by project footprints, as the students were helping him to the cab on his way to home after the residential camp . His bright smile said it all.


  1. Very touching article Saif and shows a lot about the good work you guys have done.Keep it up and our best wishes for your continous success :) Lots of Love, Navneet on behalf of Change Looms programme and Pravah :)

  2. Well done Saif! Keep going. You are an inspiration to a lot of people.

  3. really shows what difference the youth of today can make. If they decide to get involved, they can change the world...fill it with lots of love,happiness and laughter!!!

  4. Very touching article. Your organization is doing a very meaningful job.
    Is there any way i can be a part of it?

  5. Wow Saif, amazing work and you really have a way of transferring the enthusiasm and impact there on the ground through your words!

  6. Excellent work. We need people like you. Keep it up!!

  7. Saif, very few people can sustain the dedication required for this challenging field, and you are one of them. As doctors, when we see lot of patients in need of basic healthcare, palliation is among the neglected issues, finding support for which becomes difficult. Need more people like you who can light up the torch, which shows light to people who deserve a dignified living before they leave.