The Lifeline

Sanchit Halder chronicles the story of Shakeel Shaikh, the founder of  The Lifeline Foundation.

Humble Beginnings
In the early 90s I was a Social work student, doing my post-graduation. During my student years, I was surrounded by the suffering of the people who were vulnerable to many issues, the voiceless children, women and elderly people in distress and without empowerment. I worked with various communities on issues related to the challenges they faced on a day to day basis. At that time, I decided that I had to establish an organisation to work with the people. After my post-graduation, I joined a civil society organisation called ‘Positive People,’ that worked in the area of HIV/AIDS in Goa.
Shakeel Shaikh

During this sojourn, I came to know that there are a lot of places where the health services have not reached and identified Chimbel, a Slum area around Panaji as our first target. Voluntarily, my wife and few concerned friends started to dedicate our weekends to provide healthcare services to the community between 1996 and 1998, specifically for women and children and the elderly.

We felt the need to be organised and legally registered our organisation so that it would have some status and reputation that would enhance our accountability. I have always remained a mentor at Lifeline Foundation. A lot of consultations and deliberations took place before establishing and developing the organisation. I wanted to encourage and inspire those who felt that life had nothing left to offer. In my endeavour towards helping such people realise their dreams, the organisation with its humble beginnings began giving health related services to the people living in Indiranagar, Chimbel. After the registration of the organisation in 1998 we started imparting various programs in the community on reproductive rights.

The situation was dire at the time. At the inception stage of Lifeline Foundation, we conducted a baseline survey that revealed that a lot needed to be done and the health condition prevailing in the community was pathetic. People were ignorant and had neither knowledge nor awareness. In 2000, we received our first funds from the Goa government to implement our activities in Indiranagar, in the Chimbel Slum Community as it was designated.

Goals And Stories
Lifeline Foundation is currently involved in implementing HIV/AIDS intervention programs among migrant and sex workers in Tiswadi, Bicholim, and Sattari Taluka in Goa. Apart from the above, we also empower the slum community with information that can lead to their empowerment, with a specific focus on women’s empowerment, reproductive and child health, vocational training, formation of self-help groups, prevention of STIs and HIV/AIDS, remedial classes, health and hygiene and TB control and other treatment programs.

There are many stories that we have seen unfold before us over time. Few have been very disturbing as we still live in a conservative society. In one incident, one of our beneficiaries who was HIV infected and was a sex worker, faced a double stigma which is still prevalent in our society. She was ignorant about her situation and was diagnosed with HIV and other STIs. We had to build rapport with her by providing all our services under our intervention program. Over time, we found a change in her health seeking behaviour. She began to visit our office regularly and take our services, and signed up for a follow-up for ART at the Government hospital where she was registered. After couple of years, her health deteriorated and she died.

She was alone and had no relative to claim her body. Only a few co-workers showed enough concern to come forward. A name-sake brother who was fully drunk, came to see her after her death. Since Lifeline was the organisation who was looking after her health status, it was permitted to take the body from the morgue. I believe that a person needs to die with dignity and peace and the final rites need to be performed as per one’s religion. We performed her last rites. I never had any inhibitions and took the initiative to take the custody of the body, and only one of my female colleagues came with me in the morgue to take the body. No one else was ready to even touch the body, and did not even stick around.

Our program managers arranged for the other official formalities and arranged for the funeral pyre at a Hindu crematorium.  About three or four people who knew the beneficiary came with a few articles to perform a ritual at the hospital and the doctors were kind enough to allow them to do it with a warning not to unpack the body in full, but to open a small portion to expose the forehead. I personally lifted the body with the help of my colleague and allowed her close ones to perform their rituals. Finally, the body was taken to the crematorium to say goodbye.

This incident motivated me to claim all the unknown bodies at the government hospital. We agreed with the authorities that they could hand the unclaimed bodies to us. This made the hospital authorities follow up with the concerned police and municipality officials and in the next few days and all the remaining bodies were disposed with dignity - and these bodies included that of a girl child. That was a profound moment. If it wasn’t for us, more unclaimed bodies would have been there lying in the morgue.

Looking ahead
I feel a sense of satisfaction when I see our work yield positive changes in society. Lifeline Foundation is a well-developed and established organisation with experienced and trained staff, committed to the cause, have dedication, excellent team work, and consistency. Lack of funding is a major constraint but we do try to do our best to make it work. There are limitations, but we are ready to face the challenges to expand in the future in other areas of work.  

Did I ever want to quit? Never! But the question always arises as to what we will do if the funding stops. The sustainability of the program becomes an issue if someone is not around as commitment and dedication are of utmost important in providing service. Is Lifeline foundation my legacy? Absolutely not. But, it is a foundation built on a powerful strategy with a goal to provide health care and education. It is an initiative of few committed professional individual includes my late wife and a close friend.

For the past 20 years we have been present in the community and the level of living and awareness has improved on most of the health parameters and we will continue to strive further. No matter what circumstances arrive, what difficulties you face be strategic, explore the resources you will achieve in your goal. Never be disheartened when you encounter failure as we are dealing with the behavior of the people and see it always as a process. Keep on the good work to make people content and be happy.