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Helping Hand

Times of India
19 February 2012

Yashoda Wakankar who overcame epilepsy took the challenge to help affected patients to live a life with complete dignity. She will be honoured by the Asian and Oceanian Epilepsy Congress in Philippines

Small Talk With Yashoda Wakankar

She first defeated her health issues, emerged as a winner and then went on to use her experience to help others in similar trouble! Meet Yashoda Wakankar who founded the Sanvedana Foundation in 2004, through which she has been working with and for those afflicted with epilepsy. And, honouring this feat is the Asian and Oceanian Epilepsy Congress (AOEC), with the ‘Outstanding Persons with Epilepsy Award’. The award honours those who come out in open regarding the problem and fight the ‘stigmas’ surrounding epilepsy. The award will be conferred at the ninth AOEC to be held on March 22 this year, in Manila in Philippines.

Helping Hand

Daughter of renowned social activists Dr Anil and Anita Awachat, Yashoda is overwhelmed. She says, “The award is the best encouragement for my work. But I feel that it is more of a team effort. The award encourages us to work more passionately. Because of it, I will be able to meet many other epilepsy support groups from Asian countries. And I can learn from them. This was also not possible without the support of my parents, sister Mukta Puntambekar and husband Parag Wakankar.”

Yashoda’s personal battle began at the tender age of seven. “I used to get seizures five-10 times in a month. There were many restrictions and every moment was an anxious one. Fortunately, my parents gave me a normal childhood. Later, I got married to Parag, who accepted me with my epilepsy.” Thanks to the treatment and support of course, Yashoda was finally seizure free in 2003. But a thought for an epilepsystruck friend made her realise things. “Many are still suffering. Then how can I think that the problems are over? I have to do something for the others and their families. And that’s how Sanvedana Foundation was born.” Later, Yashoda completed her diploma in epilepsy care from Bangalore University.

Yashoda feels the illness still is an unfortunate victim of misconceptions and misunderstandings. “If a person gets a seizure on the road, people still put an onion or a chappal near his/her nose. Fortunately, since we are working in this field for the last eight years, there has been some change in such attitudes.”

Experiences through Sanvedana were revealing. Yashoda reveals, “When we started our counselling centre, I found that since I am brought up in a secure and educated family, I faced less problems than others. But many didn’t even know that they have to take treatment for years or have to go to neurologists. Till date, we have counselled more than 500 patients and their families. Every third Sunday of a month, Sanvedana arranges meetings where members share their problems and views on epilepsy. It gives an insight to the new members on coping with epilepsy. Around 40-50 patients and their parents come. We also arrange the lectures.”

One of the recent addition is the ‘Epilepsy Marriage Bureau & Epilepsy Matrimonial Meets’ — a first of its kind in the country. “It was started to help those who grapple with marriage issues. The age group is normally 18-35. This bureau is getting tremendous response. The first “Epilepsy Matrimonial Meet” was arranged in Pune in May 2008. Twenty-eight brides and 21 grooms were present. Eight happy marriages have been arranged so far. The second meet was arranged on November 21, 2010. Thirty brides and 20 grooms were present and 11 marriages were arranged.”

The fight to live a trouble-free life is never-ending. “Sanvedana wants to start ‘Medicine adoption project’. There are still many who are not able to take their medicines for years. That’s why we are appealing to donors to take responsibility of one person’s medication. This year, we have decided to organise awareness programmes in the rural and slum areas. We have decided to start online epilepsy marriage bureau. One of our dream is to make a good Hindi film on epilepsy. That is the best way to create awareness.” For Yashoda Wakankar and Sanvedana Foundation, the fight to make epilepsy a thing of the past, is a continuous effort.

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