My husband’s brother died of Cancer 6 years back. Ever since then, my mother-in-law visits an institute called Udavum Karangal on his death anniversary and sponsors food for the children of the orphanage run by this NGO. This year she was unable to make it during the anniversary. She was very upset and we promised to take her next time she comes to the city. We visited Udavum Karangal yesterday.
This was my first visit to the institute and I was stuck by its serenity and beauty. Udavum Karangal meaning helping hands in Tamil was founded by Mr.Vidyaakar. He himself was an abandoned child. He was bought up by a philanthropist, Mr. Ramakrishnan who provided him with shelter and education. His mentor told him “you should also help another person like I helped you”. That served as the inspiration for Udavum Karangal. Today Udavum Karangal is home for more than 2000 abandoned children, infants, mentally challenged destitutes and HIV patients.
I want to share with you a few of my experiences at Udavum Karangal. We were distributing biscuits and chocolates to the children. These were 4-10 year old children, very happy to receive the gifts. Yet, they sat down in a disciplined manner and took the gifts only when they were given and acknowledged it with a ‘thank you’. No one pushed or shoved or tried to grab. Infact, when I offered them an extra gift they refused to take it saying they have already received their share. I am not sure if we can expect that kind of grace even among children who get to eat exotic chocolates every day.
When we were stepping out of the orphanage we met Mr.Vidyaakar, the founder of Udavum Karangal. He offered to take us on tour of his facility. We met infants who were abandoned in the hospitals and in dust-bins. Then we went to the facility for mentally challenged adults and spastic children. They were so excited to see Mr.Vidyakaar, they came running and held his hand and called him papa (meaning daddy). These women are not confined to a room. They are allowed to move freely within the premises. He introduced us to a lady whom he found 20 years back, roaming naked on the high way. They located her family recently. They are not willing to take her back. There was another lady whom he found on the road with a girl child. Although the mother is mentally challenged her daughter is normal. She received her education at Udavum Karangal and she is now studying to be a nurse.
There are two schools run by the institute, one for boys and one for girls. They also run vocational training schools for nursing and driving. As I was walking around the premises I was stuck by the beauty of the garden. There were all kinds of beautiful trees and plants and creepers and not a speck of litter. I asked Mr.Vidyaakar who maintains the garden. He said it is maintained by the mentally challenged women residents.
Udavum Karangal is entirely run by contributions from donors and volunteers. These are people from all walks of life. There is a barber who comes there regularly and gives free haircuts to the children. It is people like these who make me wonder what it really takes to be able to serve. I don’t think it is money or time. The secret lies in our attitude.