Meet Uma Preman, a social entrepreneur and the founder and centre director of the rehabilitation centre Santhi Gramam, in Attappadi, one of the largest tribal settlements in Kerala’s Palakkad district. Preman has made Santhi Graman a sanctuary for the elderly, the deprived and the differently-abled.
Santhi Gramam came into the spotlight after Irom Sharmila’s recent visit there. However, the way it has been improving the lives of many is nothing short of inspirational.
It all started with Preman’s tireless efforts of building a place that could help socially-distressed people. Preman started an advisory and resource centre in Guruvayur (in Thrissur District of Kerala) in August 1997. She provides genuine information and financial assistance to medically challenged people and helps them survive potentially fatal diseases.
Our vision is health for all, live healthy in all ways — Uma Preman
“Santhi gramam is an extension of the charitable activities we have been delivering for the last 20 years under the charitable trust, Santhi Medical Information Centre,” says founder of the trust and social activist, Uma Preman.
Excerpts from the interview:
What inspired you to open Santhi Gramam?
In 2014, I landed to Attappadi where I met tribes who were still suffering from ill health, lacked basic infrastructure, sanitation facilities, and faced the major problem of unsafe drinking water. It’s a question pertaining to the situation that even after spending crores on the welfare, tribes are still fighting for the right measures. I decided to do whatever I can do for their uplift and have designed a tribal welfare project through which education, sanitation, agriculture and self-sufficiency got more prominence.
Campaigns on the roll:
- Collecting sponsorship for higher studies
- Renovating single teacher schools
- Providing drinking water and safe toilet facilities in the schools
- Health camps among tribes
- Palm leaf and napkin manufacturing units
- Farm house to train youth about cultivation techniques
- Medical assistance and home for the homeless
Tell us about the Village of Peace
Village of peace (Santhi Gramam) is a rehabilitation centre for paraplegic patients. People came here as destroyed and hopeless souls, and today they feel alive with the help of various treatments we strive to provide. We give them hope and peace via proper care and treatment.
Besides providing employment to women in the sanitary napkin manufacturing unit, Santhi Gramam has also built a firm — a palm leaf plate manufacturing unit — on its plastic-free campus. Santhi Gramam also assures training in organic farming for the tribals.
Why did you choose the path of social work?
My father actually paved the way for social work. Since my childhood, I have been seeing him work, and learnt a lot from it. I believe social work is the act of loving others just as you love yourself, rightly said by Jesus Christ.
We give our best service — not in search of money or material benefit but with a wish that ‘people should do the same for others’, some keep doing, others may be trying
Tell us about your meeting with Irom Sharmila?
I was ecstatic to meet her. We got to know about her struggle only through the media. When on March 14, 2017, Sharmila landed in Attappady, she was far away from home and was missing celebrating her birthday with loved ones. We got a birthday cake so that she wouldn’t feel lonely.
She loved the homelike atmosphere and has promised us to return again. My wish is to provide her everything that I can because it is my privilege to serve an inspiration like her.
Santhi rehabilitation centre has cured more than 2 lakh dialysis patients, has conducted over 20,000 cardiac surgeries and over 680 kidney transplants. Uma is a kidney donor herself
What were the challenges you overcame to set up such an initiative?
There are enormous challenges to overcome in order to run a charitable trust — we have some barriers in terms of qualified personnel, financial, legal, etc.
Santhi medical Information center has 15 dialysis units all over India, including Lakshadweep, where almost 150 people are employed
How do you make the tribal people aware of misconceptions about menstrual hygiene and disposing menstrual waste?
We do provide sanitary napkins and incinerators in schools and colleges and we have assistance from the health department to spread awareness on the use and disposal of napkins.
What are the social changes you’ve brought in with Santhi Gramam initiative?
Change in the health practices, especially menstrual hygiene.
What have been some of the high points so far?
- In the education sector, we are in the initial phase of a tribal residential school to impart quality education from pre-KG onwards
- We also started a parallel education centre to assist high school and higher secondary students attain good scores and a computer education-cum-spoken English course in vacations
- Health-wise, we have initiated the anaemia screening test among all students in Attappadi block and facilitated treatment
- Established Santhi industry to make women self-sufficient and men trained in farming techniques
- Initiated safe drinking water and toiler facilities for the Oorus (tribal hamlets)
What future plans do you have?
Tribal residential school is my first priority, along with an aim of establishing dialysis units all over in India. The lifestyle disease prevention camp, Karuthal, where we disseminate the motto ‘prevention is better than cure’.
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