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A Refuge to Mend and Grow

How the Bethany Sisters help forgotten and abandoned women in Kerala

text by Anubha George with photographs by Meenakshi Soman

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By all appearances, Devi, a mother of three, lived happily in a good home surrounded by her loving husband, two sons and a daughter. But beneath the calm surface, all was not well. The first outward sign came when she stopped combing her hair, leaving it unkempt for days. Soon, her behavior reflected her disheveled hair; she became more mercurial and aggressive, prone to explosions of uncontrolled rage — even violence.

Distraught, her family felt frightened and powerless to help.

Through a relative, her husband learned about a center in northern Kerala run by the Bethany Sisters that helps women experiencing psychological problems. He decided to place his faith in these women religious.

The Trippadam Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center for Women received Devi into a warm environment, offering compassion and a broad range of professional care. The sisters fed her, befriended her and helped her integrate into the life of the center, encouraging her to participate in activities and pitching in with chores. Her family visited her regularly.

Once her health improved, the psychiatrist gave her the all clear to return home. Her husband came to pick her up, and today she is doing well.

“This is what we aim to do here,” says Sister Tabitha, the administrator of the center that cares for women, noting that “some of them are abandoned by their families.” Others, such as Devi, are simply brought here to convalesce for a time, she says.

“We’re here to help those who have nowhere else to go,” says Sister Tabitha. “This is our service to Jesus.”

Based in the quaint little hill town of Sultan Bathery in Kerala’s Wayanad district, the Trippadam (Malayalam for “the feet of Christ”) Center began in 2001 as a facility for single mothers and their children, as well as older women without a home. In 2013, it undertook a shift in focus, becoming a place where women with mental health problems can stay.

“Their families bring them here and leave them in our care,” Sister Tabitha says of the five sisters who, together with a few health care professionals, care for about 50 residents.

“Everyone needs love and care; someone to look after them. Some of the residents have children, a husband, extended family, but no one wants them. Their families have disowned and abandoned them.”

On an early evening in May, amid jackfruit season in Kerala, women help themselves to the huge jackfruits hanging from a large tree on the center’s property.

“We harvested quite a few,” Sister Tabitha says, the fragrance of the ripe fruit hanging heavy in the air.

“That’s what our women have been doing today. Cutting and chopping jackfruit is an art and it takes absolutely ages.” But, she says, the activity also gives focus to hand and mind.

That precisely is what the routine of the center is about. “The women here need discipline; they need their day to have structure and they need to know how their time is going to be filled,” she explains.

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