“Born to ailing parents in a remote village in Trichy, I’ve been exposed to the harsh realities of life much ahead of my time! My father was physically challenged and couldn’t move much while my mother suffered from intense Rheumatoid Arthritis. So, with only my grandmother to take care of the three of us, you can imagine the financial stress present within the household. Moreover, as a child growing up in such an environment, the only theme prominent in my mind was fear and pain, for I was at the risk of losing my family members at any moment.
Seeing all this, I had a burning desire to become a doctor and eventually cure my parents. But these hopes came crashing one day when I ultimately realized that school education itself was a luxury. So in an attempt to manage my finances I would go to the fields in the morning and work for 4 Rupees. It helped me to get my own snacks. Evenings were more pitiful, for I had to clean cowdung for money, in the small 2-hour window between my school and tuition. The stench was unbearable, and led to additional mockery everywhere, silently feeding my inferiority complex as well.
Considering these circumstances, I knew pursuing Medicine wasn’t an option at all. In fact, college itself seemed far fetched, and I was mentally prepared to go to work and immediately support my family. But my father, in all his distress, took an additional loan to make sure I complete my education properly. There again, with students from all backgrounds, people like me were viewed as outcasts because of how we dressed, our mannerisms, and lack of English communication. So every day felt like a learning curve, where I had to surpass judgment and various obstacles, all, only to make my father proud. His disability hampered him from even entering my college premises after admissions and I saw him break then for the first time. It stirred something within me, and I was determined to top my college and get him here as a proud parent.
But little did I know, that my time in college would go on to change my life completely, in more ways than one.
It all started one day in a Salem bus terminal when I witnessed an old lady begging for alms. I barely had any money myself, but couldn’t witness the suffering she was going through. So without a second thought, I gave her my 10 rupee note, only to see her asking me for more every day. And mind you, that money was my dinner allowance which meant I had to starve myself to sleep every night. Therefore one day, in a curious attempt to see how she spends it I followed and found her passed out on the floor, high on alcohol.
It was indeed a huge shocker but what got me confused more was the reason why many of these old-aged people were out on the streets. This question got me following many beggars week after week. Peers instantly called me crazy, but that didn’t stop me. Now out of a whole lot, I particularly remember Mr. Rajasekhar, a beggar in the same area who was hesitant about people following him. He quietly ran, openly rejected, and even abused me in the 22 days I was tailing him until one afternoon he gave up and weepingly asked me my purpose.
When we spoke further, he offered to buy me tea and explained how after losing his entire family to an accident, he didn’t have the will to live. So in order to numb the pain, he wasted his entire fortune on alcohol, hoping it’ll take him to death sooner. That story definitely triggered something in me, for it made me realize that regardless of status, love and a sense of belonging are the only factors that connect us all. But the sad reality is that most of us are disgusted by just the sight of beggars without even realizing that they’re human too. Some people might be kind enough to provide money, but what they actually need is the hope for a better living.
Therefore, despite being a student, I was determined to create a change and provide a purpose for these abandoned beggars to live. I barely had any means and was a student myself, but with the support of a few like-minded people from college, I started ‘Atchayam’, a group for rehabilitating and restoring beggars in our country. All that mattered at the end was the will.
“Today, after the National youth award, State award, and a plethora of other accolades, people might look at me with awe for all the work I’ve done with beggars, but back when I started out, I remember being gazed at with only contempt or pity. And pity, because they felt I didn’t know how to rise up in life. For anyone, coming from an economic status like mine, topping college and getting placed in a leading MNC is considered a oneway ticket to luxury, but despite achieving it all, my move to focus on my trust “Atchayam”, and instead restore the lives of beggars was surprising.
Now, what helped Atchayam initially was a prize amount of Rs 25000 that I had won through various competitions alongside a bunch of like-minded college mates who finally started believing in the cause. We did fumble but persisted to get it registered for the records. You see, our intention was right, but as the first people working directly with beggars, and didn’t have many to look back to for guidance. So all our steps had to be small, original, and completely based on trial and error.
We began by categorizing them- on age, skill, cause of abandonment, health condition, and much more. This helped us analyze whether they would first need a home or a job to sustain. Now while the stench of beggars itself disgusts most people, we started directly grooming some, providing baths and even new clothes. And the transformation it led to was magical! Just the warmth of a new garment made many tear up.
From there, the reformation grew faster when people recognized our work with titles and rewards, aiding us to develop a full-fledged curriculum to support the beggars. We even conducted a complete 5-day workshop with 83 of them, bringing in the required aesthetical medical,psychiatrical, spiritual, and entertainment support from various sources. By the end, the ‘thank you’s and blessings that came our way was enough motivation to tackle every obstacle since.
Riding with the same spirit, we have been functioning for over 7 years now and restored over 5800 lives. In the process, we have managed to reunite many with their families, or even help them land a job with the required skills. Personally too, my family is as proud as they could ever be, for their son is giving people the hope to live.”
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