Begin Again

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn.” – Helen Keller

persistence

This is a story of hope and persistence. This is the story of a woman called Mani.

Mani was separated from her family in 2021 when she left her parents’ house to meet her husband and children who worked in one of the northern states of India. Her family was not aware of this and assumed she had gone to her in-laws’ house which is 30 minutes away from her parents’ house. In the hope of meeting her husband and children, Mani traveled to north India and ended up in Uttarakhand and then eventually in the Government Shelter Home, Kedarpuram.

On the day we met Mani, she greeted us with a cheerful smile and in her soft voice said “Namaste Didi.” Mani had big hopes in her eyes – she hoped to reunite with her family soon. The team was soon able to locate her family in Madhya Pradesh and everyone hoped that Mani would be going home soon. The family also shared Mani’s excitement and was eager to have Mani back home.

However, things were not as easy as they thought. There were many unexpected hurdles to be crossed which delayed Mani’s reunification, again and again. One of the hurdles was that Mani’s brothers were located all over the country working as daily wage earners. Fortunately, one of her brothers who lived in Uttar Pradesh, submitted the documents required for verification of his relationship with Mani. This process wasn’t without challenges either. He was not granted leave from work to meet his sister, the Sub-District Magistrate (SDM) insisted on meeting him personally to prove his identity (traveling 270 miles from where he lived), and he was asked to redevelop some legal documents all over again and all this made Mani’s reunification seem like a faraway dream. It was also exhausting for Mani and her family. Nonetheless, Mani continued to stay in touch with her family through video calls, and dreaming of the day when she would go beyond the screen and get to hug her brothers and sisters-in-law.

While the team worked on completing all the legal formalities, they also focused on discovering other important aspects of Mani’s story that could help her family understand the support that Mani required. This helped us understand how the strong belief in faith healing by many people in rural areas, including Mani’s family, had prevented the use of medication prescribed by a physician as an option. Mani had not been able to access medicines which might have assisted her in managing mental health struggles, as well as other sorts of mental health support. This deprivation led to increasing stigmatization by neighbors and community members for not being able to actively engage in her roles and responsibilities toward the family because of her mental health disorders.  

Finally, after months of working on getting all the legal formalities done, the magistrate gave the approval, and the family was informed so they could plan their travel to Dehradun. Yet, the family was dealt another blow: when boarding the train to Dehradun, they were denied entry in the AC coach and were directed to board the general coach and in the confusion, the family missed the train and with it, their hopes of meeting Mani too ebbed away!

The reunification team encouraged the family to stay strong, not to give up. And on October 10, World Mental Health Day, Mani finally got the hug she yearned for from her brother and sister-in-law after two years of waiting, and within the next few days, she was back in the place she calls “home.”

collective powerThis is a story of the power of collective work, of perseverance to make a dream become a reality, and of not giving up. This is also the story of the resilience of Mani’s family, of Mr. Raju who stood as a pillar supporting Mani’s family in the village, of the persistent efforts of the Family Reunification team and most importantly of Mani. Had anyone given up on this journey of waiting for a year to finally go home, Mani would still be in the institution just wishing she was sitting in the backyard and watching the sunset with her family or visiting her relatives in the nearby village or sleeping in her own bed or simply enjoying the cool breeze on a bright morning amidst the comfort of the place she calls home.

Now she is living her wish. Enjoying the good things of life.