Our first Bhopal Medical Appeal, which appeared in The Guardian and The Observer on the 10th anniversary of the disaster, in December 1994, produced a massively generous response. The task of administering this fund was taken on by the Pesticides Action Network UK (PAN-UK), which also adopted the Appeal as a project, in order that our work could benefit from its charity status, and which has generously given time and loyalty.
Our first project was to open our first clinic in Bhopal. To this end, the Sambhavna Trust was formed in India to run the clinic. Working together, we were able to buy a building, recruit doctors and staff. The preliminary work, including finding the building and negotiating its sale, and training staff took just over a year to complete and Sambhavna opened its doors in 1996.
To date our Sambhavna Clinic has treated more than 43,000 people. Sambhavna employs over 50 staff, over half of whom are themselves gas survivors. Sambhavna carries out valuable research and studies, informs, educates and trains people in gas-affected communities to monitor their health. They also grow and manufacture their own herbal medicines. Working to a principle of ‘first do no harm’ we have pioneered new treatments combining modern medicine with traditional ayurvedic herbal medicine and yoga. The work at Sambhavna has won a string of humanitarian awards.
Later the Sambhavna Clinic bought land to build a larger clinic, with a garden for the medicinal plants used in their treatments. Now we need to raise more money for the expanded work at Sambhavna. We have never accepted funding from companies or corporate trusts. Companies and governments are directly responsible for the suffering of the Bhopal survivors. Always, they want something in return for their money. We will not deal with them. All the funds we have ever collected have come from our own pockets.
In 2009 we also started to fund the Chingari Trust Rehabilitation Centre. The Chingari Trust had been open since 2005 when two survivors themselves, Rashida Bee and Champadevi Shukla, were recognized for their activism on behalf of the thousands of survivors of the Union Carbide Gas Disaster, and were presented with the prestigious Goldman Environmental Award. They used the money from the award to start the trust which was created to help second and third generations affected by the gas disaster, especially women and children. Since 2009 we have been able to support the Chingari Trust with their move to larger premises, their expansion of services, and their ability to help hundreds more children and families.
In the Bhopal Medical Appeal ‘we’ don’t ask ‘you’ to help ‘us’ help ‘them’. The Appeal, the Sambhavna Clinic and the Chingari Trust are shared efforts between those of us who are survivors, those of us who run the Clinics and the Appeal and those of us who support the effort with our money and by volunteering our skills or just our enthusiasm. This is our vision, that all of us are equal in an unbroken chain between supporters at one end and gas survivors at the other. Our sincere thanks to those who have been part of it. The people in Bhopal have a lot to give back to the rest of us. Let’s carry on the good work we’ve begun together.