How it began at SOFOSH

SOFOSH was primarily established with the noble intention of financially aiding economically challenged patients of Sassoon The organisation has grown over the years and has its fingers in numerous social welfare causes today. In fact, the story of how the organisation came about and its growth thereafter is quite an interesting one.

The story goes back to 1964. At that time, the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) area was coming up. Given the industrial nature of the same, there were many accidents that used to take place as a result. In most cases, workers were victims in these accidents. They clearly didn’t earn enough to pay for the required treatment. At that time, company insurance and the like did not exist either; leaving workers in a truly helpless position.

So, it was decided to start collecting funds for these patients. This was done through a patient relief fund box. Set up at the hospital premises itself, it was for voluntary donations only. Those who wished to donate could donate as much as they wanted to. This money was then used for patient welfare at the hospital. Unfortunately, due to mismanagement of sorts ( the current team is not aware of these exact details) this fund box was withdrawn by the management, cutting off a much-needed life-line for these poor patients! That’s when a few committee members of Sassoon along with a few noble minds from Pune came together to establish SOFOSH; an official NGO whose purpose was to provide supplementary services to the hospital. Today, SOFOSH celebrates its golden jubilee in the welfare of mankind!

In addition to fund collection for poor patients, SOFOSH also undertook voluntary blood donations as one of its initial activities. Back in the 1960s, blood donation wasn’t done voluntarily; instead there existed a bunch of people, who were termed “professional blood donors,” who sold their blood for money. Patients’ relatives had to approach these people for blood. The transactional nature of the exchange, attracted those with poor quality blood too – from anemic to Thalasemic blood as well as those with other hygiene issues. To overcome this, SOFOSH conducted the first-ever voluntary blood “donation” drive in Pune. Starting with the Trustees themselves to their friends and family, from an initially feeble response, awareness slowly increased as did the blood collections.

The success in blood donations naturally lead to their next activity. How do they now store this collected blood? Not able to do so themselves, SOFOSH joined hands with the P.L.Deshpande Foundation, who donated a blood storage facility for the same. After this first mega accomplishment, SOFOSH has never looked back!

They went on to set up an orthopedics workshop, help disabled people set up snack shops, spread awareness about HIV+, offer ART treatment and encourage adoption through their child adoption center. Incase you’re wondering if each of these activities has a unique story, the answer is yes.

The orthopedics workshop came to address the needs of accident victims. At that time, private hospitals were not allowed to response to any medico-legal cases (of which accidents form a chunk). All such cases had to be dealt with by a government hospital, no matter if it was the closest hospital to the accident spot or not. For Pune, all such cases were thus brought to Sassoon. With time, the team realised they were not fully-equipped to deal with the more critical cases. They had neither the equipment nor an orthopedics workshop to cater to these victims. That’s how the hospital’s full-fledged orthopedic unit, to manufacture limbs and calipers, came about.

A lack of restaurants in the area nor a canteen on the hospital premises lead to the set up of snack shops. The idea behind disabled people manning the same was to help them become independent, in the process. Some of them were even given the job of looking after cycles that visiting family members came on to visit the patients.

With the advent of 1990s, HIV had slowly started spreading its wings. Given the lack of knowledge and awareness, there were misconceptions about the disease, which HIV patients were then subjected to – they had to put up with an unnecessary curiosity and a heinous attitude. The doctors and staff too had reservations pertaining to HIV patients. As always, SOFOSH stood up to the challenge and developed the in-house training program on how to deal with HIV patients to create awareness and troubleshoot the misconceptions. With time, this training was incorporated into the medical curriculum itself.

Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) treatment helps HIV patients lead a relatively better and healthier life. However, the intake of pills that it involves, leads to side effects, which effect the emotionally stability of patients. Consequently SOFOSH developed a support group for such patients. Yoga classes, recreation activities like picnics, puppet shows along with vocational training in various fields (fashion designing, etc) was initiated to boost patients morale and channel their way back into society. In certain instances, SOFOSH has sponsored the education of offspring’s of such patients. Mrs. Abhyankar proudly shared with me how one such child is a qualified engineer today!

In the 1970s, lots of lost and found children were brought by the police and admitted into Sasoon’s pediatric ward too. Back then the doctor to child ratio was unbelievably poor, just 1:125. There was no facility to look after such abandoned children. Limited staff, increasing number of such children, and inadequate amenities called for SOFOSH’s intervention; which came in the form of a “lodger baby ward” to look after such children. Abandoned babies were thus looked after better, and survival rates increased as a result. But for long could they be kept at SOFOSH and be taken care of? With time, the number of children exceeded the capacity of the lodger ward as most of the children were untraceable to their roots. Even the missionary institute to which some children had been sent was brimming. This eventually led to SOFOSH’s revolutionary decision of establishing “Shreevatsa” an orphanage and adoption unit setup in 1974

Of all these activities, it is their work with children for which SOFOSH is most recognized. You’ve got to agree that this is one organisation that has truly come a long way – from a supplementary service, to an organisation with a wide variety of activities.

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