Unique jobs for leprosy patients, differently abled in Mumbai

Mumbai: In an attempt to ensure equality and instil a sense of pride among the city’s physically challenged population, the Bombay Leprosy Project (BLP) has floated a unique employment programme. As part of their rehabilitation process, BLP is offering jobs at their premises to leprosy patients, and physically and mentally challenged patients. Most of them work as computer assistants, research assistants and help out in the BLP’s clerical department

“We began employing patients from within our institution as we wanted them to be integrated with the mainstream employment sector,” said Dr R Ganapati, director emeritus, BLP.
The employment training was introduced in 1993 at Dharavi and other slums in Mumbai along with the general rehabilitation process. It was started as a part of the integrated vocational rehabilitation training programme. “The purpose behind it was to abolish the stigma attached to these patients,” said Ganapati, who is also a Padmashree awardee.
Then, a decade back, computer training was provided to the leprosy and disabled patients in the slum centres. “Today, many of these trained patients assist BLP in academic work,” added Ganapati. These patients also help doctors in their routine chores and chat up with other patients, giving them company. “Over the years, these disabled people have managed to break the barriers and mingle with the abled persons. It has also boosted their morale and self-confidence,” said Ganapati.
According to Ganapati, these differently-abled people are more sincere and duty conscious than normal workers. “Many of these people get trained by us, work here and then move on for better opportunities. We are very happy for them. Many even come back later to offer their expertise and share their experiences with us,” he said.
One such person who has made it big working with BLP is Rahul Gupta, a multiple sclerosis patient. The Multiple Sclerosis Society of India (MSSI) honoured BLP for its efforts with Gupta, who is trained as a computer assistant at BLP. The organisation was presented with the Best Employer 2010 award at function held to celebrate the MSSI’s silver jubilee this year. “Working at BLP has instilled a lot of confidence in me. My workplace has also supported me by offering a job that involves me working on a computer,” said Gupta.
Sanjay Kulkarni, who has been working as a computer assistant at BLP for the last four years, said the understanding and homely atmosphere at BLP has helped him gain confidence. “I commute from Dombivli by train everyday as I get to learn a lot of things here,” said Kulkarni, who has also picked up lessons in photography.
However, even though the organisation keeps doing some great social work, they are facing a shortage of funds. “It is difficult to ensure continuous flow of donations. We have had to close down several training centers that were imparting lessons in tailoring and painting due to lack of funds. I appeal to the people to contribute towards the society,” said Ganapati.