A Hearth for the Homeless

Ravi Samalad tells the story of one man's quest to build a home for the mentally ill, destitute and aged men and women wandering the streets of Madurai

N Krishnan, a catering graduate from Kamaraj University, worked at a five-star hotel in Bengaluru. He was even short-listed for a job in Switzerland that would have boosted his career. But, instead of serving the well-heeled at a five-star hotel, he chose to give it up to pursue a mission of feeding the hungry and the mentally ill on the streets of Madurai.

Once on a trip to his hometown, Madurai, Mr Krishnan came across a homeless man under a bridge who was suffering from extreme hunger. Krishnan rushed to a nearby stall and bought him idlis. The man ate greedily. The overwhelming gratitude in the man’s eyes as he gulped the food changed Mr Krishnan’s life forever. The very next week, he rejected the Swiss job offer and started Akshaya Charity Trust. “Had the old man been vocal in his gratitude or thanked me profusely, I would probably have gone my way and never looked back to learn what happens to people like him,” Mr Krishnan told Moneylife.

He and his volunteers now feed around 400 destitute people thrice every day, 365 days a year. It costs over Rs15,000 each day. The Trust has served around nine lakh meals so far without skipping a day.

Mr Krishnan also received the ‘Unsung Heroes of Independent India’ award from the CNN IBN TV channel last year for his outstanding social work. The award consisted of a trophy and Rs5 lakh.

“Our main focus is feeding people… we cook a fresh meal every time and the menu is changed every day,” said a committed volunteer. It all began with Mr Krishnan using his savings to buy food packets for around 30 people in June 2002. Although resource constraints forced him to limit his effort, he has been at the job for over seven years, even though the mentally ill can neither thank him nor understand his selfless effort.  The meals include substantive and nutritious preparations like idlis, dosas, pongal, coconut rice and biryani. Care is taken to ensure that the food is neither too spicy nor too oily, but just right to soothe hungry stomachs.

Over time, word-of-mouth information about his work has brought in donations. But he still does not have an office and administrative expenses are nil. Neither Mr Krishnan nor his volunteers draw any remuneration. Only the cooks, drivers and assistants are compensated for their work.

The Trust is also drawing people’s attention and contributions from places like the USA, Europe, Middle East and Singapore.

“We help anyone who is old, helpless or mentally ill who we find on the streets. These helpless people don’t know how to take care of themselves and are usually left on the streets by their families,” said a volunteer who did not wish to be named. Mr Krishnan also helps extremely ill patients who are discarded even by hospitals. He provides them food and medication. He also helps cremate unclaimed bodies.

Mr Krishnan wants to build a home for the aged and the mentally ill who are living on the streets of Madurai and ensure they get freshly cooked meals. If his project continues to receive monetary support, his dream could soon come true. His Trust has already purchased 2.6 acres of land with the funds donated by business organisations and other well-wishers.

The Trust has mobilised Rs30 lakh so far and construction of two blocks of 4,800 sq ft has already begun. The land has been registered, permissions have been obtained and electrification as well as a bore-well are in place. The plan is to have eight blocks with dormitories covering 24,000 sq ft. The total construction cost is estimated at Rs3 crore and will include a kitchen, medical facilities, toilets and a dining hall. At the moment, construction has halted due to a shortage of funds.  

“We come across mentally ill women who are exploited by anti-social elements and have even delivered babies on the street. That is why we want to build this home on a priority basis,” said a volunteer. You can help this plan to fructify through monetary donations or by volunteering your time.

Akshaya’s Helping In H.E.L.P Trust
9, West 1st Main Street,
Doak Nagar Extension Madurai – 625 010
Phone: (0) 452 4353439 / 2587104
Mobile: (0) 9843319933
email: [email protected]
Website: www.akshayatrust.org

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