HPT’s Outreach to Transgenders and Tribals
Fr Rocky Banz & Dr Anita Machado
HPT focuses on preventive strategies through Natural Wellness. Collaboration with Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work, providing succour to impoverished tribal communities
Since 2009, the Health Promotion Trust of the Archdiocese of Bombay has designed programmes and services that meet the needs of the most marginalised urban and rural communities, regardless of gender, religion, caste, creed, or ideology. In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, HPT identified transgenders as an extremely vulnerable group in need of therapeutic and preventive health interventions. Transgenders live on the fringes of society, and suffer the dual stings of prejudice and poverty. On the 31st World Day of the Sick, His Holiness, Pope Francis, calls for prayer and closeness towards those who suffer, and exhorts us to be a community that truly walks together. HPT has received tremendous support from various organisations in the following programmes that were implemented for transgenders:
• A medical camp in collaboration with the Health Outreach Cell of the diocese, held on October 14, 2022, and attended by about 35 transgenders. Services included various blood tests and consultations with physician specialists from Holy Spirit Hospital.
• An ongoing two-year preventive healthcare training in which 13 transgenders have enrolled. This program is being supported by Suraksha Samaj Kendra, a community outreach centre of Infant Jesus Church, Jogeshwari. HPT is grateful for the dynamic leadership of Sister Patricia from the Helpers of Mary congregation.
• A major holistic health intervention through a two-day residential Naturopathy Wellness camp organised for 17 transgenders at the HPT Naturopathy Wellness Centre at Khandala. The entire camp was facilitated and conducted by doctors from the National Institute of Naturopathy, Pune (recognised by the AYUSH Ministry of India). The services offered included mud packs, acupressure, acupuncture, enema, and a talk on healthy dietary practices.
HPT will continue to support the basic health needs of 12 transgenders located in Jogeshwari, through referral-based services. The HPT team deeply appreciates the generosity of Rev. Fr Simon Lopes, Parish Priest of St Joseph Church, Juhu who has helped facilitate dental treatment for transgenders at the Premdarshan Dental Centre.
Respecting the human rights of transgenders, and providing them equitable care in all spheres will require a commitment from city-wide institutions and social welfare agencies to extend compassionate care to them and dispel prevailing myths and misconceptions. But there is hope, because, as Pope Francis explains in the context of the Good Samaritan parable, the cruelty of loneliness and abandonment "can be overcome more easily than any other injustice, because – as the parable tells us – it only takes a moment of our attention, of being moved to compassion within us, in order to eliminate it."
A Compassionate Outreach in Palghar
"I invite all of us to reflect on the fact that it is especially through the experience of vulnerability and illness that we can learn to walk together according to the style of God, which is closeness, compassion and tenderness." (Pope Francis)
The College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan along with the Health Promotion Trust of the Archdiocese of Bombay have been collaborating through the Spandan project in a compassionate response to the health needs of one of the most impoverished regions of Maharashtra – the Palghar district, an indigenous tribal area. The communities here are weighed down by high rates of malnutrition, child mortality, lack of education facilities, an absence of minimum healthcare, and severe food shortages. Spandan's goal is to promote sustainable development among the tribal groups of ten villages in Dahanu and Talasari, with a focus on eliminating malnutrition.
One of the aims of the World Day of the Sick is "to raise the awareness of God's people, healthcare institutions and civil society with regard to a new way of moving forward together," says Pope Francis.
Research points to over-dependence on prevailing healthcare interventions of a curative approach. Over the last two decades, Health Promotion Trust (HPT) has incorporated Nature-based preventive health measures into every aspect of the health worker training curriculum, and has achieved very positive outcomes, as evidenced by a recent impact study. Through Spandan, HPT and the College of Social Work follow a similar holistic health approach in their health education programmes. His Holiness, Pope Francis, situates the parable of the Good Samaritan in the contemporary context, emphasising "…how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others…" The Spandan team has been providing outreach to an extremely vulnerable target group in the Diwanpada and Dasarapada padas in Ganjad hamlet, namely, 30 pregnant and lactating mothers. The team has identified a strategic location, namely Anganwadi centres, where the women attend healthcare training, and also learn about water therapy, low-cost nutritious diets, human physiology, and herbal medicine recipes.
Underweight children comprise another vulnerable group. A Nutritional Supplement distribution programme has been a very successful Spandan initiative; children receive health supplements containing wheat, jowar, bajra, halim, soyabeans, moong, ragi, peanuts, and other pulses. The overall goal of all these interventions is promoting behaviour change to achieve holistic health at all levels.
In his World Day of the Sick message, Pope Francis highlights the importance of "actively seeking, in every country, strategies and resources in order to guarantee each person's fundamental right to basic and decent healthcare." Spandan's programmes align closely with the provisions of the National Health Policy and the National Rural Health Mission. The former focuses on expanding interventions to include early detection and response to early childhood development delays and disabilities, educating adolescents about sexual health, and promoting lifestyle changes to help prevent communicable and non-communicable diseases. The Rural Health Mission focuses on revitalising indigenous health traditions, zeroing in on sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and safe drinking water.
"Illness is part of our human condition. Yet, if illness is experienced in isolation and abandonment, unaccompanied by care and compassion, it can become inhumane." (Pope Francis)
The Spandan project aims at rooting out chronic illness among the people of Palghar, especially malnutrition deficiencies in children such as marasmus and kwashiorkor. Through a participative community approach, strongly supported by community centres, non-governmental and governmental organisations, HPT and the College of Social Work are helping ensure that these tribal communities can begin to enjoy good physical and mental health.
"I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…" (Ezekiel 34:15-16).
The College of Social Work and the Health Promotion Trust are confident that, strengthened by divine grace and wisdom, they will be able to continue collaborating to root out the scourge of malnutrition and sow the seeds for a healthy generation in Palghar.
Fr Rocky Banz is the Director of Health Promotion Trust and the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Victories Church, Mahim. Dr Anita Machado is a faculty member of the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan.