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Hope on wheels for Bangalore’s homeless and ill

By Maitreyee Boruah, IANS,

Bangalore : Two months ago a malaria-struck Joseph P was fighting for survival on the streets of this city. Today he has not only been cured but is learning the art of making paper bags to earn a livelihood, thanks to a social service group.

At the transit home of Humanitarian Network, an organisation working for the poor and underprivileged, 45-year-old Joseph is one of 800 people who have been rescued, treated and rehabilitated from the streets of Bangalore by the crew of an ambulance introduced last November.

“The ambulance service is our latest addition in providing free and quick medical services to poor and needy people. The idea behind having an ambulance is to make our medical network more easily accessible to destitute people of Bangalore,” Ravi V. Melwani, founder member, chairman and CEO of Humanitarian Network, told IANS.

The NGO was started 10 years ago with its transit home in the Hennur neighbourhood. Currently, 104 people are staying in the home. Five years ago the NGO also opened Humanitarian Hospital at Bannerghatta Road to treat the rescued people. Now 110 people are being treated there.

The ambulance service team consists of 12 people, including one doctor and three paramedics, helpers, nurses and a driver. The team visits various parts of the city to pick up destitute people from the streets.

“Actual treatment of patients is done in our hospital. The ambulance acts more as a carrying van with basic medical facilities, like a stretcher, oxygen cylinder and first aid box to name a few. We also run a helpline (numbers 080-25228000/9739544444), so that if anyone comes across a destitute on the streets of Bangalore, he will be able to inform us.

“On an average we get 30 calls a day. But with only one ambulance it is difficult for us to help the large number of destitutes in need of help,” lamented Melwani.

“Members of the ambulance service team also visit destitute wards in hospitals where patients generally lie unattended for days. They are treated at the organisation’s hospital and other networked hospitals like Bowring and Victoria hospitals and then shifted to the transit home in Hennur,” informed Melwani.

The ambulance was donated by the Union Bank of India. The NGO is planning to get a few more soon to extend the service across Bangalore.

According to a survey done by the New Ark Mission of India, another Bangalore-based NGO working to provide shelter for homeless, Bangalore has 30,000 homeless people on the streets on an average on any day.

“We know an enormous task is at hand. It is not easy to cater to the needs of so many people. But we are trying. Since the beginning of Humanitarian Network around a lakh people have been treated, rescued, and rehabilitated,” said Shankar, a member of the ambulance service team.

The NGO is working with 84 other NGOs of the city for rehabilitation of destitutes. It has also set up Humanitarian Employment Network (HEMN) with the aim of providing employment opportunities to rescued people. HEMN imparts various vocational skills.

“Of course, there are some who are unable to or not fit to be employed. Such people are rehabilitated at our humanitarian homes. Others are employed as watchmen, gardeners, cleaners and assistants. HEMN is looking for volunteers to work for the cause of destitute,” said Shalini Shukla, an official of the NGO.

“I have spent 10 years on the streets of Bangalore. Today I have a roof over my head. I don’t have to beg any more and am also learning to make paper bags. Hopefully, I will be able to earn my livelihood soon. I owe it to Humanitarian Network for helping me get a new lease of life,” said Joseph.

Subhadra Kumari, 30, a beggar who was found lying unconscious on M.G. Road by the NGO almost a year ago, is happy that her life has been completely changed now.

“I am learning sewing. I plan to come up with my tailoring shop soon,” smiled a confident Subhadra.

(Maitreyee Boruah can be contacted at [email protected])