An accident, money lenders, misery.  Poverty has many faces. 


  Sanyo is 29 years old. He lives in a small rural village close to Karamadai, a village with a very poor infrastructure. Drinking water is delivered every second week only via a pipeline system. Recently, a housing project has helped to give a better home to families – without leaking roofs and with stone walls. The habitants mainly live from goat rearing and some culi work. The living conditions here are definetly poor. Sanyo’s life never has been rich. A few years ago he got married and has a two years old son. Somehow they managed and even enjoyed.

Poverty can even be worse

Today, Sanyo is handicapped. He sits in a wheelchair. His legs are paralyzed. He has huge back problems. Last year he had an accident and fell down from a roof during a housing adjustment. One of the wooden sticks he walked on at a three meters height had broken. A year full of misery has passed. He got a financial governmental support of ca 20.000 INR, corresponding to a two months income of a nurse or ca 350 EUR. Once. That’s it. No insurance, no pension, no further financial support.

For getting a few medical surgeries and an old wheelchair the family has taken a loan at a money lender’s. They never had a bank account and no normal bank would lend them money. Now, every month, they have to pay ten thousand rupees back –  for the next four years. That’s the money/month they would need for life (ca. 170 EUR) and which they can pay only because Sanyo’s mother-in- law came to live with them and goes for every work she gets. But due to the credit rates there is no money left nor for food, clothes, some extras for the child nor for additional care. One last surgery will take place in a few days. That’s their big ‘hope’. “Maybe he will be able to walk a few steps then, if all goes well and if then he trains a lot – if he could just a few steps with someone’s help… that would give us some hope “, his 22 years old wife adds. They live under the poverty line now.  The poverty line is actually  1,90 dollar, that’s roughly 120 rupees a day . They get some rice and sugar, some supplementary food from the government.

His own family never has come to visit him – since the accident happened.

The sisters who stay with me and give me insight into the social programs they run say that he feels very useless and depressed: “We visit him and his family when we come to the village, once per week. We gave them the money to adapt the house inside, to build an inhouse toilet facility and to do some adjustments so that he can move with the wheelchair inside. We bring some food and support where possible. But we cannot help a lot. There is so much poverty everywhere.”

Sanyo’s wife, with his two years old son in her arms, brings a tea. She asks me to take a photo of her family. She smiles at her husband.

It is one of those moments where I feel very helpless. I remember when I was 22 years old and started my own family life. It looked definetly different. This life here is not fair, there is not even a choice for change left.

When we leave Sanyo appears with his wheelchair at the entrance to say goodbye. He has not talked that much. Now he smiles.  Maybe that’s because someone came to visit, maybe it’s also due to a neighbor who is repairing his old motorcycle just in front.

For Sanyo the world ends at the front door.  There are some old stairs in front of the house he cannot overcome and then there are these bumpy streets, or better pathways in the village. These street conditions are simply not viable. Not with this wheelchair. Not under these conditions.

A personal note and a request

During my stay in India I have visited many families with somehow disabled and handicapped  family members. The situation is always very critical due to the financial situation and the lack of knowledge on how to get more support by the government. Cheap Insurance schemes that could help are in place, but most of the rural population have no access to them as they do not know about their existence.

Some of the families simply cannot manage to live with ill family members under one roof. Disabled children are abandoned, elderly people with mental health issues live on the streets in very bad conditions.

There are homes for mentally and physical challenged people, but far too less. In the most homes I have seen just the basics like washing and food are covered, by nuns or nurses. Visits of psychiatrists and medical experts are far too rare. In some homes physically and mentally ill people live together, children spent their entire life in small beds. I have seen also a home with a rehabilitation center. They exist, no doubt. The question is always what kind of support can they offer? Where I have been the rehabilitation exercises are taught only once or twice a week. A few minutes per person.

I’m sure that people with money living in the cities and suffering from disabilities have access to very modern care and treatment, high level rehabilitation included. But only for 10, maybe 20% of the population. 
And there is some hope: With the rise of social enterprises , some fantastic institutions have been set up: there is e.g. Kanthari in Trivandrum in South Kerala for blind people or the Banyan organization in Chennai for mentally ill people. India needs definitely more such institutions.

As long as these advanced institutions are not in place everywhere, the help of private people and companies is needed. Now. Short-term. They cannot wait. If you are interested to “adopt” one of these families, please let’s get in contact.

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