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Sunday Samaritans: Always at their best

Painfully shy of recognition, Sunday Friends, a group of do-gooders that promotes blood, eye and skin donations, lends a helping hand wherever one is sought.

mumbai Updated: Dec 31, 2014 22:16 IST
Priyanka Vora
Members-of-Sunday-Friends-provide-food-to-peasants-families-at-Sion-hospital-in-Mumbai-Satish-Bate-HT-photo
Members-of-Sunday-Friends-provide-food-to-peasants-families-at-Sion-hospital-in-Mumbai-Satish-Bate-HT-photo

When this reporter contacted Sunday Friends, a group of do-gooders that promotes blood, eye and skin donations, they agreed to speak, but politely declined to reveal their names. They agreed to speak about their work, but only on one condition — their identities must remain anonymous.

“There aren’t any presidents and secretaries among us. Everyone who works has the same name: Sunday Friend,” said a man, who wanted to be called just that: a Sunday Friend.

The group was formed 30 years ago, when one of its founding members saw a man serving free food to people in need near Nanavati Hospital, Vile Parle. “I went there again the next Sunday, and spoke to the man. He just gave me one piece of advice — it is easy to start a project, but the important thing is to continue it without losing interest,” said a Sunday Friend.

Within a month, he had gathered a few friends, and they worked out a plan to serve free food to those in need, every Sunday morning. As most Sunday Friends lived in Sion and Matunga, the group chose Sion Fort as their venue for the distribution. “It was satisfying, but we faced obstacles as well. Some people criticised us, saying we should find them jobs and not serve food,” he said.

Now, the group provides food to more than 400 people at Chunabhatti, and relatives of patients admitted to the civic-run Sion Hospital on Sundays. Their work expanded gradually. “Most children who came for the Sunday lunch were not studying in schools. The young members of our group decided to teach them some basic mathematics and English on Sundays. This year, four such students passed their SSC exam,” said a Sunday Friend.

The nature of the work has been influenced by the personal experiences of members. One of the Sunday Friends had a difficult time in 1983, when his sister was admitted to hospital. “I had a tough time arranging blood for my sister. Some people had no money to buy medicines, and once, a patient jumped to his death at the hospital. That’s when we decided to help patients and their relatives,” said a Sunday Friend.

Though the group has worked at the civic-run KEM Hospital, most of their work is now concentrated at Sion Hospital. “Most of the Sunday Friends were from Sion and so, we started working closely with Sion Hospital,” said a group member. Today, the group is almost like a department of the hospital. In fact, Sunday Friends was approached by the hospital’s skin bank department (the first in India) to promote the cause of skin donation.

Donated skin is used for patients who have suffered extensive burn injuries, which have damaged their skin. “It was challenging, as no family would like to bring a deceased relative’s body to the hospital again, for donation. So we told the hospital that we should go to their homes and collect the skin,” said a Sunday Friend.

Since 2007, Sunday Friends has facilitated 934 skin donations in the city. To promote such donation, Sunday Friends even started publishing write-ups in different community newsletters, about those who had donated their skin and eyes.

“Between 2000 and 2006, we collected about 60 donations of skin. In 2007, when Sunday Friends started promoting the cause of skin donation, we received 70 donations of skin in just a single year. The number itself shows the dedication of the group to the cause. As skin and eye donations are facilitated after death, Sunday Friends also started promoting eye donations. They go to prayer meetings and promote the cause,” said Dr Madhuri Gore, former head of surgery department, Sion Hospital, and founder of first skin bank in India.

Sunday Friends doesn’t just collect donations. “We did not want to restrict ourselves to any particular activity. We help whoever needs our help, and all of us look forward to Sunday,” said a Sunday Friend.

The group does not accept any funds directly; it simply makes sure the donor and the recipient meet. “If someone wants to sponsor the lunch, we make sure they come and serve the lunch as well. There are many well-wishers who we approach when the hospital needs a machine urgently,” said a Sunday Friend, adding that the group does not allow any funds to sit idle.

Volunteers with Sunday Friends say that participating is actually beneficial to them. “I joined Sunday Friends when I was in depression. I started teaching children and last year, 10 of my students passed their SSC examinations. Three have joined a diploma engineering course,” said a Sunday Friend.

The latest project undertaken by Sunday Friends involves guiding patients approaching Sion Hospital, to the right departments. “The hospital is huge, and most patients who come to the hospital end up spending considerable time searching for different laboratories and outpatient services. We have made maps, and using them, we direct the patients. At other times, our volunteers escort them to the right departments,” said a Sunday Friend.

About Sunday friends
* The group was formed 30 years ago, when one of its founding members saw a man serving free food to people in need near Nanavati Hospital at Vile Parle

* Now, the group provides food to more than 400 people at Chunabhatti, and relatives of patients admitted to the civic-run Sion Hospital on Sundays

* Young members of the group also teach the children who come for Sunday lunch. This year, four such students passed their SSC exam

* Since 2007, Sunday Friends has facilitated close to 934 skin donations in the city Sunday Friends go to prayer meetings and promote the cause of skin and eye donations.