Of everyday surprises and evolving capacities : My son :)

Yesterday, my son showed me how he could stand for few seconds without holding on to anything. While he has been standing and walking by holding furniture around him, he is yet practicing that art of standing straight from the sitting position.

Everyday, when I see him work hard towards the next milestones, I realise how probably all of us were wirewp_20170228_025d with the ability to work hard, practice everyday inspite of failures and challenges, and enjoy a sense of achievement even for the small wins! And then, something happens on the way while we are growing up as adults! We learn to give up, we become afraid of failures and we sometimes want to avoid the challenging routes to success (in whatever way we define success).

My son challenges many of my assumptions about his capacities, about all that he can do and adapt with. He was born with radial clubhand. While there were several milestones that I hoped he would achieve (and he has been achieving them!), I was also worried about various limitations that he may face due to his hand.

I wondered, ‘will he be able to clap?’. He would watch us clap and try to do the same but that would be without any sound. But soon he figured out the art of clapping! And there is sound too. Then I worried, ‘will he be able to sit without the fully functional right arm?’. And surely, when the time came, he did sit on his own. He practiced a lot and figured out his way.  Then I wondered, ‘ will he be able to crawl?‘. He had starting standing with support by then. And then I watched him practice the art of crawling slowly and steadily. First on the bed and then on the floor. And now, he crawls with speed!! He is 1 year old now. In the last few months, I also wondered, ‘how would he pick up things or throw things?’ And of course, he is doing all that. He does not hold his sipper on his own and drink water from it. But I hope he will figure out a way for that too. I am sure we will also need to figure out what all needs to be modified around him for his functionality.

But as of now, our son is adapting. He is using his left arm for most things as he has figured out that it does more things. So, all the ‘bye byes’ are with the left hand.He would reach out generally with the left arm to take things out from the drawers. But he generally uses both arms, especially when he needs to stand while holding on to things.

I am waiting to see how things evolve, how he finds his way around things and how he adapts! How he would ride his bicycle and how would he apply brakes.

It is lovely to watch him practice and achieve his goals! Last three-four weeks, he was practicing the method of bringing himself to the sitting position from a sanding one. I watched him throw himself on the floor (that is what I call it but he was actually trying to sit) at least 50 times a day!! But he never gave up. He would get up and again try to sit! And 28th Feb morning, he stood up and then sat quietly on the floor. He had reached his goal. He did not practice for it again. He knew he had achieved what he was trying to do. I have seen the same pattern with some of his other activities as well. As soon as he realises that he ‘has done it!’, he ends the practice time. That happened when he managed to use the comb one day in the ‘right’ way. He did not try to comb his hair again after that, not too often at least. Obviously, when he achieves one goal, he moves on to something else!…Something that would be his next goal and would require hours of practice time!

He practices the words ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ and ‘oobuu’ and ‘ooguu’ [and other words that I can’t spell!! 🙂 ] these days but not sure if some of these words apply to the two human beings around him! I am waiting to see his reaction on the day when he realises that! 🙂

The joy of small things!!

Organ Donation: Saving Lives, Helping Families

Febin K. Mathews

Febin K Mathews passed away on 13 January 2015. He was 33 years old. Two years have passed since then. When he left us, he was in need of liver and kidney transplant. But there was no organ donor available. There was no one who could promise his family that such a donor would be available. Deterioration of his health from December 2014 to January 2015 left everyone surprised and shocked. We were not ready for this.

Of course, we cannot always control the outcomes of our efforts. But what might have happened if Febin managed to have liver and kidney transplant  through organ donation?

If our loved ones can have possibilities other than death, will we not try? If someone’s donated organs can create such possibilities for someone, should we not do our bit to ensure that this happens? My answer to these questions is: Yes!

But what is the actual scenario in India vis a vis organ donation? Read here and here. You will read that 90% of people in the waiting list die without getting an organ!

Please consider organ donation! Please remember that this is not ensured by merely filling up a form or pledging. You need to convince your families for it because when you are no more, they will take the decision about your body. Let your families know that your organs should be donated when the time comes. By doing this, you may save other families from going through the pain of loss. You may be able to create an alternate life course for them. By raising awareness on organ donation, you may be able to access donated organs in time for yourself when such a need arises.

If you want to read more on what is happening in India on organ donation, please read the following:

Thank you!

What do we really know about income inequality?

Strong social protection systems do matter.. As reflected in the ILO findings.

Work In Progress

Uma Rani Amara, Senior Economist, Marianne Furrer, Research Officer

If you watch the news or read the papers, chances are you have heard about income inequality. The issue is complex and polarizing. But what does income inequality really mean?

For anyone who’s still in the dark about income inequality, it’s essentially the uneven way in which income is distributed within a population. The rich keep getting richer but everyone else’s income stays the same or decreases.

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My reflections from a lecture on social work

327298_10152149625370190_115386351_oProf R R Singh takes a session every year during the orientation programme for 1st semester students at the Department of Social Work, University of Delhi (formerly DSSW). I have never been able to participate or attend his session as I have generally been busy with orientation programme for 3rd semester students. This time, I was eagerly looking forward to listen to him. He took a session “Understanding social work: global and local in contemporary times”  on July 29, 2016

It was a great experience. He was full of stories , shared insights and used humour.

Sir shared his plan for the session and stated that he wont speak for 90 minutes. He said he would make a few statements and then give a quiz which will taken forward with help of students. This made it quite clear from the beginning that the session is going to be participatory, interesting and will not be a long lecture…although I would not mind that at all from someone like Prof Singh.

His statement -‘ Business of social work is social work’ is something I believe strongly in. I, in fact, also believe that primary task of social workers is social work. Many people have their own definitions or ideas of what social worker is supposed to do. I believe that if someone has gone through MSW and chosen a path to be a social work professional, they need to continue to work in this field while following values and principles of this profession. If you can’t follow the values and principles of this profession in your work, you should think of just being in some other profession rather than saying that these values and principles are not applicable in our context. Everything can be applied in our context if we work with a good understanding of the context as well as these values and principles. Social justice is one of our core values. Of course it can applied in our every day work. However, when I get to know about someone who gives up social work as a profession somewhere during the course of life…I feel sad. Sometimes quite angry.

Sir said that you can do social work with or without training. Social work involves work with ‘I’ and “E”, i.e. ‘individual’ and ‘environment’. While discussing this, he mentioned Martha Farrel who was an alumnus of DSSW. She was killed in Afghanistan. This mention about her brought up fond memories of her as she was my PhD batch mate. We were the first batch that was started under new regulations at Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia. She was of course the senior most scholar in our batch. Sharing stories and food made our batch’s PhD journey interesting. I attended her prayer meeting along with my batch mates and faculty members. At that time I had started thinking of all those who work in conflict zones- how they work sometimes without safety and in absence of so many resources; how they work on several issues while reaching out to people who live often under threat and uncertainty. This is tough work. When I worked in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Kashmir – these places were not active conflict zones. But as I visited these places, I could not miss how conflict had changed these places and people. I don’t know when will I get back to working in conflict zones because now I have to consider my son (who is not even a year old yet) as my priority. He has a right over my time and availability. My work in the area of child rights has given me enough evidence to believe that parents cannot be easily replaced. You can support parents to do their job better, make the environment better and safe for children. Most children would be better off with their parents who are also generally their primary attachment figures. So for me, it’s a choice between what I may want to do and what my son needs. Lets see how things evolve.

Quiz by sir sounded tough. One had to choose between two aspects and both sounded correct. This for me was to push people to reflect and know more about self. What is it that is a priority for us? ..because these priorities influence our choices and behaviour when we work as social work professionals.

Social work is not only about problem solving but also about empowering- Sir said. I feel that both these aspects go together and that’s why work with individuals as well as environment is important. It is a complex process, sometimes involving so many systems and stakeholders. Making the society compassionate and inclusive– sir’s this statement is one of the core goals of my work and profession I think. It is so important to focus on these aspects, especially in the current scenario where people are stigmatized, excluded and sometimes even killed because they are different from the majority. Social work is a important profession in present times. And we social workers have so much to do! I hope the students are up for the challenge! ..because problem solving and empowerment are not simple processes.

When sir gave newspaper clippings to students, divided them into groups and asked them to select any one problem to then identify solutions to that problem, I was wondering what would be the process of selecting ‘one’ problem out of so many? As a professional, it has often been part of my role to build a case and advocate for the group or community that I work with. My case or my issue has not necessarily been a priority for others. For example, when it comes to mental health (one of my work areas), I have heard co-professionals stating how other issues are more important that talking about mental health. Obviously, when they say that ..i know that they are stating on the basis of their assumptions on what mental health is about. They think mental health requires specialists and everyone can’t deal with it. I feel angry when people say such things without even making an effort to know about mental health. As a mental health professional, I have integrated issued of marginalization, homelessness, child rights, gender, disability and post disaster recovery. Mental health is more than working with disorders. It is about working with everything that affects the way people think, feel and act. This calls for a lot of work with the environment. Its not easy and it requires all of us to be sensitive. You dismissing or humiliating someone also affects mental health. living with fear of threat to life also affects mental health. 1 in 4 persons can have a mental health and neurological problem at any point in their life. so many of us within this classroom may have a mental health problem and we may just dismiss that person’s concern because we don’t know much about mental health. For example, one of the paper clippings was about a women with OCD and difficulties faced by a man because of that. A women with OCD has problems and without treatment, it will be difficult to state whether we are working in a gender sensitive manner. Mental illness is one of the reasons cited to seek divorce, to be restricted with chains within homes, to be stopped from going out for a simple things like buying something from the market, and to not ensure property rights to women and also men. Every story has layers and complexities. What is easily visible is not necessarily the whole story.

I think we need to make an effort to understand basics about as many issues as we can. This is not just to prepare for exams. But as a preparation for us to work with people. People are not guinea pigs for our experimentation. We need to build our capacities to work with them. Because social work profession , most of the time, is not just about our intuition or sixth sense! It is much more and needs perspectives and skills.

Kashmir 2016: Extension of history


(Photo: from my September 2009 visit)

I did not know what to say or write for what has been happening in Kashmir recently. The scenario of protests, killings, curfews in Kashmir is not happening for the first time. This cycle comes and goes along with conversations on Kashmir, what Kashmiris want, what people from several parts of India think, whether attacks on protesters is justified, agony of children being killed and injured, talk of nationalism and ‘real heroes’…the list goes on. As we all stand divided on Kashmir and the scenario there, opinion sharing and debates continue along with some ‘fake’ forwards as well.

This time, I thought of sharing some excerpts from what I have already written in last few years. Because I don’t know what else to say or write. I don’t seem to have new words to express my thoughts. Much has been written by others as well.

[Shweta Verma (2015). Patterns of Coping in the Context of Conflict: Voices of Young Women from Kashmir. International Journal of Social Work and Human Services Practice, 3 , 71 – 81]

  • There are different views about the age of Kashmir conflict in India. One view considers the current situation as an extension of what Kashmir has been witnessing since the Dogra Rule of Maharaja Hari Singh (Ashraf, 2008). Another view dates the problem to 1947 when partition of the Indian sub-continent along religious lines led to formation of India and Pakistan. Following this, peace in Kashmir got disturbed repeatedly with wars and war-like situations between India and Pakistan. 1989 saw an uprising by pro-independence armed groups in Kashmir Valley. This led to a situation of turmoil for many years. Indian armed forces moved in to counter the armed insurgency. Since then, there has been a significant military presence in Kashmir. This had significant impact on Kashmiri population, especially with the implementation of strong legislations like- The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 and Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978. As a need to preserve a nation and its security intersected with a need for ‘freedom’ and ‘equal rights’, what resulted was a combination of feelings of anger, insecurity, and of being oppressed among people in Kashmir.” (p.71)
  • “Findings also indicate the significance of channels of expression and communication. The use of these channels has to be supported. It’s not helpful if expression of anger or dissatisfaction by people is often judged only on the parameters of national security. Many spontaneous protests have faced criminalization in India (Teltumbde, 2013). However, if channels of expression have to be facilitated, then the protests on streets or through social networking websites can’t be criminalized.”(p.79)
  • “It is important that we understand people’s strengths and coping strategies instead of ignoring their resistance strategies. At the same time, just because people cope, it does not imply that we should not focus on making the environment less adverse or hostile for people. Diverse stakeholders need to continue to work towards creating respecting, enabling, safe environments for everyone. This involves questioning the ‘national’ narrative that, according to Kazi (2009), “normalizes violence as an inevitable and integral part of producing a nation” (p.198) and instead “envision a democratic and non-national vision for Kashmir based on recognition and respect for Kashmiri identity and Kashmiris’ desire to chart a political future free from central control and dominance”(p.202). Considering the changed political scenario, we wait to see how this national narrative changes.” (p.80)

[Verma, Shweta (2015). A widow, a victim, a mother: Rethinking resilience and well being within the complexities of women’s lives in Kashmir. Intervention: Journal of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Conflict Affected areas, 13 (2).]

  • “Since 1989, outbreaks of armed insurgency, counter insurgency measures by the government, the impact of heavy militarisation and years of socio-economic difficulties have been faced by the people of Kashmir. Authoritarian measures were imposed, not only on individuals and families, but also collectively throughout society through prolonged curfews and ‘crackdowns’ (Kazi, 2009,p. 100). Over this long period of conflict, large scale deaths have led to a significant rise in the number of widows in Kashmir. Further, many men are still missing, creating ongoing uncertainty for their families. While there is no reliable data available on number of deaths or disappearances in Kashmir, one estimate suggests that 46,581 persons (including security force personnel) were killed during the period 1999-2004 in the Kashmir Valley (Public Commission on Human Rights, n.d.). Additionally, the number of women widowed due to conflict (including women with missing husbands) is estimated to be more than 15,000 (Butalia, 2002). However, Shekhawat (2014, p. 90) places this number at 33,000 women.” (p.159)

[Shweta Verma (November 2016). Resilience among women widowed due to conflict in Kashmir (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi]

  • As gaining a sense of security and escaping death or fear of death become a priority for people in Kashmir, life becomes more focused on “survival rather than seeing life in terms of flourishing with joy, dignity or achievement (Bhat, 2011, p. 102). According to Bhat (2011), along with killings, disappearances, sexual violence, imprisonment and tortures, loss of infrastructure, feelings of fear, anger and hatred, that have accompanied the scenario of armed conflict in Kashmir, one cannot ignore how everyday life of people is shaped and guided by conflict as they see that survival can often be a matter of luck than of innocence.Deteriorating social and economic situation has significantly impacted mental health of people in Kashmir (Ali & Jaswal, 2000). This was found in a study by Ali and Jaswal (2000) as they focused on low income households in urban Srinagar and presented the following aspects of scenario in 1990’s: day to day life was filled with fear, worries and uncertainty of future, threats to oneself and safety of family, and fulfilling everyday basic needs. In a 2005 study by Medecines Sans Frontiers (MSF) on exposure to violence and psychosocial impact in two districts of Kashmir (Kupwara and Budgam), most respondents reported frequent direct confrontations with violence since the start of conflict (de Jong, et al., 2008a). 86% respondents reported exposure to crossfire and 13% reported to have faced torture while 12% reported to have experienced sexual violence. Males reported more confrontations with violence than females. One third of respondents also reported psychological distress, especially women. ” (p.55-56)


I hope things improve in Kashmir soon and no more lives are lost.


(Photo: In February 2012)

Mental health is your business! Because what goes around comes around!

-what_goes_around,-23485“What goes around, comes around”- we use this phrase often to invoke Karma theory in our discussions. To me it is another way of saying two things together: ‘As you sow, so shall you reap!’  + You can’t avoid the consequences of your commissions and omissions! Hence, important thing is: not only what we do, but  also what we don’t do. When I write all this, my intention is not really about teaching Karma theory or philosophy of life (although that is one way to look at it!). I want to build a case for mental health, for you to support it, not overlook it, and for you to believe that  mental health and mental health problems are not something that you can remain untouched with. No matter how hard you try. If it is not you, it is going to be someone you know who could face mental health problem. 1 in 4 will face it. So you can’t really be untouched by it, directly or indirectly.

“Mental health problems range from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life to serious long-term conditions. The majority of people who experience mental health problems can get over them or learn to live with them, especially if they get help early on.” Read more here. Some types of mental health problems have been shared in simple language here.

Mental health problem is common and it is inevitable whether you like it or not. So mental health is ultimately everyone’s business. One way to understand mental health is this. In fact, there are ways in which you can look after your mental health. For example, this webpage mentions some.

Okay, I don’t mean to say that everyone is doomed! No, having mental health problem is not the end of life (Read Myths and Facts from links given in point 4 below). But life with a mental health problem can be difficult at times or several times. And having a family member go through it is not something we would like to experience it (although again, it is likely to happen someday). So it is a good idea to invest in not only one’s own mental health but also of those around us.

Assuming that you managed to open all the web-links shared above and have gathered some idea about what mental health problems could be like, lets see how mental health is everyone’s’ business. And why do I say that – what goes around, comes around? Consider the following scenarios and ask yourself:

  1. You avoid your friends who worry a lot, repeat themselves often, have some odd habits that you feel annoyed with… What will you do when your parent or sibling gets the same problem?
  2. You divorce your spouse because he/she has mental illness, what will you do when you son or daughter starts with mental illness?
  3. You reduce contact with your parents or siblings because you feel burdened and annoyed with their expectations (that you should hear them out, spend some time with them) which stem from their mental health difficulties, what do you want others to do when you develop mental health problems? or What will you do when the person you live with (your spouse, or child) starts to have similar expectations?
  4. Someone approached you to help a person with mental illness by offering space in your home for a month. You refused to help because you thought ‘what if this person committed suicide? what if this person burnt the house down? what if he molests someone?'(To see myths and facts, please read these links: 1, 2, 3, 4. And the following links are for Indian context although the previous links also apply to us: 5, 6, 7.) And one day you realise your both children have mental illness. Now, go back to the time when you were asked to help. Would you do things differently?
  5. You used to be afraid of people with mental illness and never spoke to them if you saw them (again , most probably this was because of the myths you believed in). And one day you were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Would you want to be treated and perceived in the same manner as you did in past for others with mental illness?
  6. You, as a helping professional (lets say as a social worker) refused to work with people with mental illness saying that this requires special skills and you don’t have them. Then one of your family members was diagnosed with a mental health problem? Will you now refuse to work with that member and not build your capacity?

These are just some examples. I hope you thought of answers to these. I hope you felt the need to know more about mental health field. The need for resources for this field is huge. But you can any day do your bit by being aware and sensitive. Please do not refuse to help someone with a mental health need. What goes around, comes around! And make an effort to identify those with mental health problems around you, offer support, be around. Noone should be isolated. 

Thank you for understanding.


Documentaries at low cost for grassroot NGOs

NGOs have to document and present their work/activities/achievements so that they can sustain work by

  1. Monitoring what is going on
  2. Keeping data/information that can support the process of mid term or end of the project evaluations
  3. Applying  for and receiving funds,
  4. Showing transparency,
  5. Proving that they are doing work on ground
  6. Acknowledging who did what in their team
  7. Taking/documenting feedback from people they worked with and evolving future activities accordingly
  8. Going back to recorded history and feeling proud of and motivated by what they were able to do in past!
  9. Familiarizing new team members with their work and history in a more organized manner as every information cannot be transferred orally

(these are few points that I could think of as of now. I am sure there are more)

Although documentation is such an important part of everyday work of NGOs, this is also an area where they face challenges (will cover that in more details in later blog posts). One of the challenges is of funds and human resources when it comes to making documentaries or keeping video documentation. Making documentaries is not necessary but it is an easier way to present complex issues and work in a capsule format that easily accessible, understandable and more lively. (You can read this example to understand how documentaries are beneficial).

Cost of making documentaries, however, cannot be afforded by several NGOs, including those doing a lot of work at grassroots but with insufficient funds to invest in a tool and process like a documentary. Gayatri Memorial Foundation (GMF), an NGO, has taken an initiative to support work of NGOs by offering to make documentaries/short videos at a low cost through its ‘Gayatri Production House’.


About GMF and its Documentary production team:  This NGO is based in Jaipur (Rajasthan). Their documentary production team involves mainly three individuals at present: Navneet Singh, Kanta Singh and Manish Sharma. Kanta  has learnt the movie making editing software on her own. She works with sony vegas pro (a movie editing software), magix movie edit pro, and audacity for sound enhancement in movies. Navneet, among several things that he does while running GMF, also specializes in directing plays and writing scripts. He has been engaged in forming theatre groups in rural areas, and writing  scripts for various plays focused on social issues. Manish manages logistics and organizes community  members for the shoot. This team is also working on enhancing its own skills  further in production of documentaries and short videos.

Cost of documentary production: The cost ranges from 15,000 INR to 35,000 INR depending on the quantum of work and geographical area covered. Travel and accommodation related expenses are not included in this cost as this is expected to be organized by the host NGO.

Keeping the costs low:  Among several things that they do to keep costs low, they  use no lighting, makeup, storyboards, or catering personnel. Using sun as the natural source of light, most of their work is done in the day with people from communities. They rarely work with actors.  The team also works at rates lower than their usual per day rates to keep the total production costs low and affordable for other grassroot level NGOs.

I hope this initiative will help other NGOs document and showcase their work.  Best wishes to the team!

GMF team can be contacted at: 8963879930 / 9826446609; gayatri.gmf@gmail.com