Hygiene + Hope = Recovery
Dr Nita Mukherjee 17 April 2013

Dr Nita Mukherjee finds selfless volunteering for looking after children afflicted with cancer 

 

After a 24-year long career with Unilever in UK, when Nihal Kaviratne returned home to Mumbai with wife Shyama, they were toying with the idea of doing ‘something meaningful’ in the social sector. They had an abiding interest in welfare of destitute children. Philanthropy was in their genes—their parental families had a long tradition of charitable work. Ms Kaviratne’s family ran Bal Anand, a school for destitute children; Mr Kaviratne’s family supported various catholic orphanages.

 

In their interactions with many associations helping poor cancer patients, the one yawning gap they found was clean shelters for patients who came to cities for treatment. In one of their visits to Tata Memorial Hospital (Mumbai), they were “horrified to find patients living on the pavements outside the Hospital.” A situation that often resulted in patients, already debilitated with radio- and chemo-therapy, contracting secondary infections that delayed and hampered their recovery. 

 

The Kaviratnes decided that this was the niche they would work at filling—to provide a safe and clean living space for children to recuperate during their cancer treatment. Mr Kaviratne says, “Depressed minds and immune systems combine with a lack of hygiene to reduce survival rate.” Thus was born the St Jude India ChildCare Centres, as a Section 25 company, in February 2006 that provides completely free stay for children, under 15 years, with two family members, during their treatment period at Tata Memorial. The first St Jude Centre, at Mhaksar Hospital (Mumbai), for eight children was funded totally by the Kaviratnes. The emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness is visible at all St Jude Centres. “This is the one thing we are obsessive about,” says Manisha Parthasarathy, a volunteer managing committee member. 

 

The Kaviratnes decided to ‘perfect their model’ before replicating it elsewhere. It took them 20 months. Today, St Jude has seven Centres in Mumbai (with 79 units) and one in Kolkata (17 units). They plan to set up Centres in Jaipur and Delhi in 2013-14 and expansion plans include Bengaluru and Pune, amongst other cities.  Each unit has a bed, cupboard and shelves for a child and two adults. Toilets, baths, dining & recreation/activity areas and kitchen are common. Each family is provided a gas stove, basic utensils and ‘starter pack’ of staples on admission and given weekly basic nutritional support comprising atta, tur dal, oil and milk powder. Additional vegetables, etc, have to be arranged by each family. St Jude has a list of possible donors who the families can approach for support. “Every year, more than 5,000 children travel to Mumbai to get treated for cancer. St Jude has admitted over 2,600 children since we started in 2006,” says Manisha. Admission is strictly on the basis of reference from Tata Memorial Hospital, regardless of religion or community.

 

Mr Kaviratne emphasised St Jude’s 3-circle approach to cancer care: medical, physical and emotional. This is explained to volunteers and their skills and time allocated to one of these circles. Says Manisha, “Although we are an NGO, we are run completely professionally. This is due to our systems and procedures. Every centre has an identical look and processes.” 
 

St Judes has FCRA registration to raise foreign funds and donations are tax-exempt under Section 80G. It encourages online donations in three currencies; US$, euro (through PayPal) and UK£ (via Charity Choice).

 

St Jude India Childcare Centres

2nd floor, Indian Cancer Society

74, Jerbai Wadia Road, Bhoiwada
Parel, Mumbai  400 012
Tel: 022 2417 1614
Web: www.stjudechild.org

 

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