Since 2011, Chhahari has focused on working with mentally distressed men and women on the streets of Lalitpur district through its Street Project’. The origins of the undertaking arose chiefly due to the realization that we do not know enough of the conditions, needs and perception of people living on the streets. The goal was therefore to gain an understanding; and subsequently develop programmes and activities that are targeted to their needs. From the onset, the Street Project has adopted an innovative and action learning approach, which stresses reflective learning. Emphasis has been placed on building trusting relationships that enable staff to connect with people living and coping with difficult circumstances, and to respond to the unique condition of each person. This investment of time and effort remains a corner stone of our organization’s philosophy and is considered essential in order to reach men and women who have experienced profound and multiple exclusions. This created the opportunity to be responsive to the uniqueness of each individual’s situation. It also allowed CNMH to document the profound ways in which people experience multiple exclusions from families, communities and the state.

To date, we have worked with 86 mentally distressed. Our one-year pilot (2011-2012) showed that those who are wandering on the streets usually have families nearby who are supporting them. This challenged our assumption that they were homeless. Rather they were found to be disconnected from their families. Most were found to have given up, after long struggles, as they did not know what to do or who to turn to for help. Rejection from private mental health service providers were also not uncommon, especially considering that all the families were poor with household incomes ranging between NPR 4000-5000 (GBP 25-31), while monthly costs for treatments were NPR 1500- 2000 (GBP10 -12). Existing government services were also found to be inadequate, discretionary and unresponsive to the diversity of mental health needs.

Early on, our efforts were focused on providing food and clothing to the people we met on the streets, and tracking down their families. But, this was just the beginning of our involvement when we realized the need for a more holistic approach, which focuses on providing medical treatment as well as psycho-social support to those with mental illness; and their family members and carers, who were also found to be in need support systems. Presently our core activities include:
  • Securing and negotiating funds for affordable treatment options with existing government, civil and private institutions
  • Providing psycho-social counselling that is responsive to the physical, mental and spiritual well being of clients, carers and family members.
  • A day-care centre for clients and carers to allow them to express themselves (through creative music, arts, cooking), build self-esteem (meditation, field excursions) and slowly engage with others.
  • Advocate for legal protection to safeguard vulnerable people from exploitation. Capacitate social work trainees, volunteers and researchers to be more responsive to the holistic nature of mental health issues.