Supporting Children and Families Facing Childhood Cancer, Access Life Assistance Foundation, Mumbai
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Access Life Assistance Foundation is a Mumbai-based NGO, established in 2014, providing safe, hygienic, and free shelter for children with cancer and their parents throughout the child’s arduous treatment and recovery period. They support and shelter recovering children and their families from economically weaker backgrounds and remote villages who cannot afford accommodation in the city, enabling them to experience the comfort of a home to focus on their children’s treatment and recovery.
A Ray of Hope in the Cloud of Darkness
A cancer diagnosis is upsetting at any age, especially when the patient is a child. Many parents feel overwhelmed and confused during the initial weeks after their child is diagnosed with cancer. It is natural to have many questions, such as the following: Can children ever be victims of Cancer? Will the child get well? What does all of this mean for the family financially? Where to treat the child? How long will the treatment last? Not all questions have definite answers.
Most childhood cancers are highly treatable, provided prompt and effective treatment is accessible.
In developed countries, three out of four children survive cancer. However over 80% of children with cancer live in developing countries and more than half may not survive largely due to lack of awareness, late detection and diagnosis, inadequate facilities, high treatment costs and absence of supportive care.
A large section of our population resides in smaller towns or villages where quality healthcare services are not easily available. Parents of a child with cancer are generally the earning family members and have to give up their limited earning means to get their children to larger cities for mid/long-term treatment. Most of these families have no shelter and are often forced to live on the footpath or resort to unhygienic make-shift accommodation throughout the treatment period, making a child vulnerable to various infections owing to low immunity after chemotherapy and other treatments.
As gathered from a team of social workers at Tata Memorial Hospital, the leading-most institution for cancer treatment in Mumbai, only 40% of cancer patients can afford the treatment cost ranging from 0.50–7.00 lakhs and the remaining 60% of patients cannot afford such treatment due to poor economic conditions.
More than 80% of families receiving cancer treatment come from smaller towns. The long tenure of treatment makes it necessary for patient to remain in close proximity of the hospital and endure a 3–4 hour travel that can be prohibitive. Accommodating such patients affordably on a mid to long term basis close to the hospital in Mumbai is the most daunting task.
Access Life is one such gem which provides full support and help to the families of cancer child patients, assisting tremendously in their survival. Two friends, Ankeet and Girish, volunteering for cancer patients, observed that pediatric patients from rural areas underwent treatment with no accommodation, and set for themselves a task to find shelter for these children seeking places on rent from owners willing to house patients and their families. Very few understood their cause. Finally, after 5-6 months of relentless searching, they found a place in Chembur. Beginning modestly, they founded Access Life in June 2014.
Access Life initially housed 8 families with patients aged from infancy to 14 years, has gradually grown and today operates 4 centers (2 in Chembur and 1 each in Thane and Andheri) accommodating 34 families. Access Life provides clean and hygienic rooms with basic amenities such bed with storage, electricity, mattresses, shared kitchen space for every family and clean toilets and water. For hospital visits, they provide van/car services for children to go for scheduled treatments as they cannot travel by public transport.
Access Life also manages arts and music shows and creative workshops in the form of Access Life Arts and Gaana events to cheer up the children and their families, keeping them engaged in fun activities and making them forget their pain and suffering. Access Life is striving to create Childhood Cancer Awareness, while spreading joy through the sale of handicrafts such as lamps and wall hangings made by the children and their parents.
While mothers of the children take up kitchen responsibility and at times also work on making bags or other art and craft work along with children, the father accompany their child for treatment and also takes up some responsibility at the centre such as cleaning, carpentry, plumbing, etc.
Over 150 families have already availed the services since inception in 2014. Approximately 15 families are provided accommodation during their child’s follow up for up to 1 week every year. Access Life also maintains contact with families who leave the centre happily after successful treatment of their child, to ensure the wellbeing of children post the long treatment.
Access Life has staff strength of 15 members to manage the centers; each centre is managed by a centre-in-charge along with supporting staff, including caretakers, drivers, housekeepers and managing staff.
Visiting Access Life facilities is a humbling experience filled with positivity. On interacting with the families and children, we realized how stable and safe they feel here. Families are provided with every possible support including counseling sessions and groceries are often donated by individuals or organizations.
The ambience is friendly as families come together and support each other while undergoing similar struggles. Parents cannot forget the pain they undergo as their child suffers from cancer, but they see a hopeful silver lining that leads to their child’s recovery through Access Life. The energy and smiles on the faces of young kids gives a feeling of Godliness and makes one wonder how these angels make light of every problem that they face as they truly live in the power of now, forgetting what they are undergoing.
On our way out all children lined up to say bye to us and also gifted us handmade paper flowers as a token of their love; this gesture was enough to roll tears of joy in our eyes.
Access Life is constantly looking to augment its capacity to house more families and is also seeking to provide shelter to teenage children above the age of 15 years. For its ever growing need, not only a place with good infrastructure but also nursing staff, volunteers, teachers, supervisors, drivers etc. are required.
Access Life approximately spends Rs. 20,000–25,000 per month on a family of 3 members. All of this translates into constant need of financial support from various organizations and individuals to make the Access Life mission a success.
We welcome members to contact Access Life and pay a visit to their facility; it is in indeed a humbling experience to observe how positively and tirelessly Access Life members help children fight with their disease and come out as winners; your hearts will be filled with positivity and inspiration.
This NGO is truly working tirelessly for a Cause that we all need to Support.