Mumbai: Eldred Tellis, founder-director of Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust and a ray of hope for several hundreds of drug addicts in Mumbai, is a repository of tales of agony.
He recalls the story of Abdul Altaf, 49, who left his village near Bangalore 13 years ago and lived on a street near Mumbai Central railway station, dissolving his anguish with cocaine or brown sugar. Or Sanjay Singh, 38, who ran away from home in Darjeeling at 10 only to end up joining a street gang in Mumbai and abusing drugs.
Sankalp’s four drop-in centres at Mumbai Central, Kurla, Kalyan and Bhiwandi and a community care centre at Islampura offer rehabilitation programmes to about 2,000 junkies like them every year.
Offering help: Director of Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust Eldred Tellis (centre) with co-workers. Tellis says the number of new clients is decreasing, indicating that the spread of HIV/AIDS among drug addicts is not as rampant as earlier. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
In January, Sankalp will complete 15 years of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS among drug users in the city. In 2008, it was among 25 recipients globally of the United Nations’ Red Ribbon Awards.
“At least 24% of drug-injecting clients visiting our centres are found to be carriers of the virus as they used to share syringes,” says Tellis. Sharing syringes and needles is a key cause of HIV infection spreading among drug addicts.
Sankalp was established in 1995 primarily to fight the spread of AIDS among drug users in Mumbai by spreading prevention messages. It has an annual budget of about Rs70 lakh, funded mainly by agencies including the National Aids Control Organisation, the Mumbai District Aids Control Society, Deutscher Ordens International of Germany, Avert Society and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Sankalp also conducts periodical detox camps to wean drug users off their dependencies. “The daily routines in the camps consist of prayer and meditation, work therapy and educational and motivational discourses on positive living, assertiveness, self esteem and communication skills, preventive measures for HIV/AIDS, STI (sexually transmitted infections), TB and personal and environmental hygiene,” says Tellis, who was awarded the Ashoka fellowship in 2008.
Ashoka, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding and fostering social entrepreneurs worldwide, was founded in 1981 by US-based social innovator Bill Drayton. It identifies and supports social entrepreneurs through a venture capital approach.
Sankalp has at least 300 new clients in its syringe exchange programme and 240 injecting drug users opting for substitution. Tellis says the number of new clients is decreasing, indicating the spread of HIV/AIDS among these addicts is not as rampant as earlier.
Sanjay Singh is proof of this change. “I came to know about Sankalp around seven years ago through a staff (member) who was an ex-drug user himself, got inducted to substitution therapy, followed by detox programme. It cleaned me from addiction.” Singh tested positive for HIV while the recovery process was on. “I could stand up again with the help of Sankalp, and it gave me the courage to think about visiting my folks back home.”
But the social stigma, a curse worse than the disease, stops hundreds of Sanjays from making it.