Living on a prayer

Monday Musing

[ Karyir Riba ]

Dear readers, much to everyone’s annoyance, the second wave of the horrid Covid-19 has started spreading its wings in our state. Possibilities of an oncoming lockdown have our minds driven to their edge, driving us mad.

Speaking about mad, let’s look at the literal meaning of being mad. Someone who is mad has a mind that does not work in a normal way, with the result that their behaviour is very strange.

We have all, at least at one point in our lives, seen a mad person simply wandering around. In fact, I believe every town has at least one demented person who roams around town. Most times we can see them in the market area, again, I believe because that is where they can find scraps to eat and survive.

The question here is, how much do we care for these people and what have we ever done for them? Maybe some of us have offered them food and clothing at some point, but is that enough? What permanent help have we provided them with?

Well, while most of us are either scared or appalled by such people, one family in Roing has been silently working for the mentally challenged.

In a cozy corner of the headquarters of Lower Dibang Valley district, pastor Romeo Numi, along with his wife and three young children, has been giving shelter and care to the section of our society who we, speaking honestly, despise.

The Numi family runs a destitute prayer centre in Gamgu here, and have been working for the betterment of the mentally challenged since 2011. Apart from the mentally challenged, they also provide rehabilitation for alcoholics and drug addicts in the premises. Till date, 190 people have taken shelter and benefitted from the prayer centre.

Currently, the centre houses eight inmates – all mentally unstable women. Pastor Numi says that he has been concentrating on women because they are the worst affected.

“Women with mental health issues are most vulnerable, especially to sexual predators. When they have no place to go, they just roam around town and take shelter wherever they can at night. They are more susceptible to sexual abuse,” said pastor Numi.

Out of the eight women, four were brought by Numi from the Roing township area, while the others arrived from different places like Yingkiong and Seppa. He said that if he sees any mentally challenged woman wandering around, he brings her to the safety of their prayer centre.

What is most beautiful is that the staffers who are working with the Numi family are women who had once been inmates at the centre. “When they get better, they want to stay back and help us with our work,” informed Numi.

Numi informed that these mentally challenged women follow a routine and they like having an allotted task. Pointing at the humble yet tidy surroundings, Numi said that the compound is well kept by the inmates. “They like doing chores. Maybe they feel a sense of responsibility while playing their part. Everyone has a task here,” he said.

Just as the pastor was speaking about the mental capabilities of these women who have been rejected by the society, a woman arrived with a basketful of green leaves. She came to where we were seated and exchanged pleasantries with me. She told me her name and said she had gone out to collect fodder for the pigs. After she left, pastor Numi started telling me her story.

Before she was brought to the centre, she was completely demented and repeatedly raped, resulting in many unwanted pregnancies. “She used to roam around town and had no place to take shelter, so had fallen prey to many molesters,” informed Numi, who after spotting her, brought her to the centre. She was pregnant at that time and gave birth to a healthy baby boy, who also lives with the Numi family and very fondly calls pastor Numi ‘abu’ or father. Today, this same woman helps at the centre and if not told about her past, one would not be able to tell.

The prayer centre has a church and several other structures, including the pastor’s family home. While the church is an SPT, the other structures have been built by Numi and his helper, mainly with bamboo. The pastor said that the budget is on the tighter side, so he has to do what he has to do to make the place work.

However, it gets difficult at times, especially when the alcohol/drug addicts staying there for rehabilitation get out of control, or when the mentally challenged on the more aggressive side have an episode. The flimsy structures cannot take the punches and kicks thrown at them by these inmates, laughs Numi, which is evident from the shaky walls and posts of these structures.

Pastor Numi informed that they run on a very tight budget. The little money that they receive as Sunday donations by the churchgoers is used to fund the cause. They use the money to buy food, clothing and personal hygiene items for the inmates, including sanitary napkins.

Since they cannot afford to take these women to a proper mental health hospital, more than medication, they involve ‘prayer counselling’ as part of their treatment. The same goes for the alcohol/drug addicts who come here for rehabilitation.

When asked about how they coped during the Covid-19 lockdown last year, pastor Numi said that they were housing 24 people at that time. He recounted, “Just a few days before the lockdown, we had stored half a sack of rice for the dogs. Since the rice was not very good for consumption, we had put it aside for the dogs. And then a day arrived during the lockdown when we had to cook this same rice for all of us to eat. We were left devastated as there was no fund to buy food. That evening, I received a call from David Lego, a former ASM of our area. He told me that he would like to send some essential food items to the prayer centre. Likewise, many others came forward and we received donations that made the rest of the lockdown period easy on us. These donors were truly godsent and we are really grateful for their kindness.”

It is indeed overwhelming to see how an extremely simple setup of self-built bamboo structures is working so sincerely for people who have been left out by the rest of the society – that, too, on a very meagre budget with no source of funding other than donations given by weekly churchgoers.

Now that the pandemic has hit us again, restrictions on church gatherings will mean a financial crunch for the facility that is already running on very humble funds.

In the words of pastor Numi of the Gamgu Destitute Prayer Centre, prayers are never left unanswered and the almighty always paves the way.