Life is a beautiful day. But you need to wake up to see it. Right now, at this very moment, there may be scores of people standing on a stool with a cloth around their neck. A way of leaving Mumbai that is increasingly becoming popular. But for every stool that has fallen, several nooses have loosened. Because they chose to make one last call to one of the many helpl lines in the city. And the trained helper at the other end has slowly persuaded the sorrowful caller to give life another chance. But today, helplines themselves are fighting a final decisive battle against oblivion.
With the rise of more fashionable avenues of charity that attract the city’s generous, and the increasing cost of doing good work in this city, Mumbai’s old helplines that have saved generations of men and women who wanted to quit Mondays forever are facing a destructive financial crisis. But they are fighting. A day cannot befall them when they have to tell a man who called to say he going to die, “Actually, we are broke too”.
Last year, Mumbai’s oldest helpline and counselling centre, the Samaritans was given an ultimatum to move out of Byculla’s Sewa Niketan building. That is after more than four decades of operations – offering daycare facilities to distressed individuals, besides a phone helpline that rendered anonymous counselling. This blow did not stop the Samaritans. “Stopping our work was never an option. We can never sit idle. This is a city that needs help. If all of us start closing our offices and stop our work, who will be able to offer the helping hand that millions of Mumbaikars require,” asks Pravin Mahendra, trustee at the Samaritans.
The organisation merely moved the daycare centre to an open space near Jeejamta Udhyan, commonly known as the Byculla zoo. The beautiful surroundings, open space and proximity to nature in fact helped them better in counselling and looking after 20 daycare patients. Adult patients suffering from psychological problems are counselled, taught skills and craft and at times, taken to picnics as well.
The Samaritan’s Helpline division, though did not move in at the daycare centre. It was transferred to a smaller temporary place at Claire Road, Byculla. The place has been offered to the social organisation by a well-wisher as a temporary arrangement. The helpline number – 23073451 – though remains the same.
With rains lashing Mumbai, the centre at the open space near the Byculla Zoo has come to a halt. Today the Samaritans are looking for a roof over their heads. But there are indications that a social trust may help it get a place in the city’s Lalbaug area.
Somehow social orgainsations manage to pull through. Maybe because they are good at the business of shore-up. Earlier this year, scores of helping hands gave the much-needed relief to Prayas, one of the oldest Mumbai social organisation. “Call it blind confidence; call it the spirit of Mumbai. Call it the never-say-die attitude. Mumbaikars do not give up,” says Vijay Raghavan, project director at Prayas.
Since its establishment in 1990, Prayas has helped a range of people, from those arrested for minor offences such as ticket-less travel and the mentally ill, to children of criminals and victims of trafficking. Prayas’ outreach programme has risen from an initial 30, to over a thousand. But when it launched a programme to train such persons at other organisations, it had to pay Rs 1,700 per month, per person, for the exercise. Although the results of this programme were extremely positive, Prayas was left with a huge cash crunch. That’s because despite generous donors (its field action project is run by Tata Institute of Social Sciences is primarily funded by Dorabji Tata Trust and other generous donors), the programme left a gaping hole in its budgetary allocation.
The situation became so bad that the staff had to take a salary cut of 15% for three months, although currently the cut has been reduced to 8%. The staff also decided that all of them would pool in to pay the part-time temporary staff.
After an all-out appeal, many well-wishers of Prayas went out of their way to financially support the group. “People who knew us helped us with small contributions. The word-of-mouth support saw Prayas get well over Rs 7 lakh. Though the shortfall was over Rs 12 lakh, many Mumbaikars loosened their purse strings. Some NGOs and corporate helped too. Fresh budgetary allocations in the new financial year also eased the situation,” says Raghavan.