Aasha is a family of caregivers who have come together to support caregivers and their loved ones who have been diagnosed with mental illness
"Aasha aims to engage, empower, rehabilitate and reintegrate individuals with mental illness and provide support to families and caregivers."
Summary of relevant work
Aasha is a registered non-profit NGO in Chennai, India, promoted and run by families of persons with mental illness. Aasha manages a 40-bed residential rehabilitation home, provides vocational training and supported employment through five employment units, and conducts advocacy and stigma reduction activities, while providing a platform for caregivers to support each other, learn coping strategies, and most importantly, find the best possible way to care for their loved ones.
About the Aasha Employment Project
One of Aasha’s most innovative projects is the Aasha Employment Project, which was created to address the lack of successful rehabilitation for people with mental health issues in Chennai. Through the project, gainful employment is provided to individuals with mental illness in sheltered employment units, in order to provide a platform for individuals with mental illness to regain their foothold in the community. In providing them opportunities for gainful employment, which involves interaction with the community, earning a wage and developing skills on the job, the project prepares them for reintegration into the community and a functional living situation.
The Aasha Employment project started its first unit as a shop that sold stationery, general household and office items. The shop was located near the residential rehabilitation home in the midst of a thriving community of homes, schools and offices, where the opportunity for interaction with the public was high. Aasha residents were engaged in rotational shifts of two or three residents at one time. A manager was present for supervision. After a few months of interaction with the community, the residents were brimming with entrepreneurial ideas to increase the sales figures of the shop. There was a definitive increase in their self-esteem and improved communication skills. The Aasha Employment project currently runs 5 employment units selling consumables and peripherals and has paved the way for many individuals with mental health issues to move on to external and competitive employment.
About 20 of Aasha’s rehabilitation home residents choose to work in the employment units in shifts at any given time. Since 2003, approximately 150 people with mental illness have worked in the shops and 40 of them have moved on to external employment. People working in the shops get involved in the management of their illness and are able to in some part contribute to the purchase of their medicines and to family and living expenses from the wages they earn. This in turn addresses the problem of family burden.
The Aasha Employment project is delivered by Aasha with key inputs from Kromatiks & Insulants Pvt Ltd, which is a business owned by Aasha president Ratna Chibber. The first shop in 2003 was funded by Abilis Foundation Finland and subsequent employment units are funded by private donations from friends and acquaintances. The Sir Ratan Tata Trust also partnered with Aasha for the period of 2012 -13.
“I have recovered from my illness because of working in the shop. It has made me think clearly and improved my memory. It has been a holistic experience for me. I like shop keeping and I think I can venture out in the future."
-Aasha home resident and shop employee
“My personal experience of employing my brother who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in my business venture made me realize that employment is a significant rehabilitation process for people with mental illness. This gave me the conviction to start the Aasha Employment Project and advocate employment as a therapy for people with mental illness.”
-Ratna Chibber, entrepreneur and Aasha President
“Income generation programmes like Aasha are crucial in removing the stigma associated with mental illness. It sends a powerful message that persons with mental illness can be productive and fully participate in community life.”
-Dr. Soumithra Pathare, Consultant Psychiatrist and Coordinator for Mental Health Law and Policy, Indian Law Society, Pune, India