By Julius Kujur SJ
From its founding in 1971 by Br Robert Mittelholtz SJ, a Canadian missionary, Jesu Ashram has had one focus: caring for those who are excluded by society. Every initiative of the health care facility has been for poor, marginalized, destitute people. The four new Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Society of Jesus are an explicit, helpful indication of those charisms that inform all aspects of our ministry at Jesu Ashram, but it is not difficult to see how our mission is particularly oriented toward the preference “walking with the excluded.”
The patients and residents at Jesu Ashram come from that section of Indian society that is often referred to as “the poorest of the poor.” People who are sick and who cannot afford treatment anywhere else find here a home of love, care and new life. Moreover, those who are suffering from diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis and HIV face stigma and tend to be treated as outcasts in their communities. Neighbours and the general public avoid them and keep their distance as though they were “untouchables.” Family members try to hide their illness, but without treatment this only leads to other complications. Those with such diseases, therefore, know they can come to Jesu Ashram to find a welcoming home of love, acceptance and healing. Once here, they are treated with dignity and respect.
Everyone at Jesu Ashram is encouraged to participate in activities according to their ability, and everyone does contribute to the ashram in their own way. For example, patients and those who come to look after their sick relatives play a big role in the upkeep of Jesu Ashram. They are encouraged to separate degradable and undegradable waste material for disposal. They not only help to keep the compound clean but also plant trees and care for our flower gardens. I am proud to say that our grounds are filled with greenery.
Some of the services at Jesu Ashram include: taking care of 200 patients every day in the health facility, feeding patients, dispensing medicine, and providing accommodation during the treatment period. People who are unable to care for themselves and who have no support from their family are cared for by staff and trainees who feed them, bathe them, take them for walks by wheel chair, cut their hair and wash their clothes.
Whenever there is a health problem in a remote rural area, a team from Jesu Ashram will go to help out. Medical camps are provided on request and medicine is distributed. Teams of staff and students also go into villages and schools to raise awareness about diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis, malaria, HIV and black fever, and to promote good nutrition. Jesu Ashram also assists patients through referrals to other health facilities for services they require.
Every year 15 young women from economically poor families are admitted to Jesu Ashram’s public health training program. They are also taught English and computer literacy to increase their confidence and employability. On completion of the three-year program, most nursing graduates find employment in other health facilities in and around Siliguri.
What really distinguishes Jesu Ashram is that it walks with the excluded poorest of the poor without regard to caste, religion or any other basis of discrimination.