It took around two years for Sushmita, who suffers from depression, to turn her life around and sustain herself. In a room near the female ward of the Government Hospital for Mental Care at Erragadda in Hyderabad, she is joined by her friends Pratima and Jagruti. The three women, supervised by a volunteer, sit comfortably on a stool in front of a leaf-making machine with four dyes (blocks). The trio heat-press an unevenly shaped vistaraku (adda leaf; botanical name- Bauhinia vahlii) and a cardboard square under the dye to make a sturdy, circular eco-friendly leaf plate. The women make plates of different sizes for different purposes: tiffin (eight inches), dinner (12 inches), and also without cardboard. After making 25 plates of each variety, they laminate them and segregate the waste. These 25 plates are later sold at ₹88 (tiffin), ₹138 (dinner) and ₹113 (non-sturdy big plates). “People book over the phone and come to collect them from the hospital,” informs volunteer Gujjaralamudi Jyothi.
“It is an easy process, we learnt how to make leaf plates in a day,” says Sushmita. While seven women have been trained, these three women become skilled.
People can call NGO Sayodhya’s helpline 1800 599 1811 to book orders or call the number if they find a mentally ill woman on the street
This initiative by NGO Sayodhya holds out hope for these women as it provides them an avenue for livelihood assistance. Launched on August 4, this skill-based initiative is a tripartite agreement — project funded by TMEPMA (Telangana Mission for Eradication of Poverty in Municipal Areas) as part of its poverty alleviation programme, implemented by Sayodhya at the Government Hospital for Mental Care in Erragadda. It is an attempt to rehabilitate the women inmates who have recovered from mental illnesses as certified by a doctor, informs Sayodhya founder Vemulapaati Mrudula, who runs a half-way homeat Amberpet.
Sayodhya supports and provides shelter to women who have recovered but have not gone back to their families. “According to the law, when people are cured of their mental illness in a hospital, they have to be handed over to their families; their release orders have to come from the court to the police station. However, some women have to overstay due to various reasons — their addresses are being traced but in some cases, the families do not take them back. We give these women basic literacy, communication and numerical skills, and art therapy, and teach them self-grooming, yoga, how to make tea and help them follow a routine. Since we prepare them before they go home, our centres become halfway homes,” explains Mrudula.
After introducing paper craft and how to make phenyl, the team — with an investment of ₹20,000 (for raw material) — is now training these women to make eco-friendly leaf plates. Under the supervision of a volunteer, the three women have made around 4,700 plates in 10 days (averaging 450 per day) of which 1600 have been sold, generating an income of ₹5650. “Their total earnings amount to ₹1,250 and once they achieve a daily output of 1,500 plates, each person will be able to earn ₹ 150 per day as wages. We are on track to reach that milestone,” says Mrudula. The NGO plans to make Aadhar cards for these women to open a bank account and deposit the amount.
The team hopes to procure raw materials from tribals in Visakhapatnam and start a sales kiosk near the entrance of the Government Hospital for Mental Care in Erragadda , besides tying up with V-Mart to sell these plates online.
One may not be able to erase the dark phase of their lives but Mrudula hopes this initiative will empower these women to make a fresh start.
(Names of the inmates have been changed to protect their privacy)