57-year-old Dr MS Sunil distinctly recalls the day she visited her student Asha’s house. It was 2005, and the now-retired zoology teacher was then in-charge of National service scheme programme at Pathanamthitta Catholicate college.
In this middle of a purampokku land (piece of land common to all), stood a makeshift plastic shed that Asha called home.
After she lost her parents, her grandmother struggled to raise Asha and make ends meet.
“The first thing I noticed about the shed was there was no door. An old and thin dupatta hung from the top to cover the entrance. I was moved to tears,” says Dr Sunil.
It was at the time she decided to build Asha a home. While the Panchayat agreed to give Dr Sunil three cents of land, she actively started raising funds through family, friends, teachers and students. At the time the house cost her Rs one lakh.
“Today Asha is working as a teacher. She married an army man. She bought a car that she drives to school every day and her daughter is studying in Kendriya Vidyalaya,” says Dr Sunil.
One turn of events not only changed Asha’s life but also Dr Sunil’s.
There was no going back after 2005. Till date, she has successfully constructed and handed over 83 houses to people living in deplorable conditions.
Those she has helped include 55-year-old Susheela, who spent nights under an umbrella as a shelter, cooking food, despite having a diploma in Civil Engineering, or Athirunkal’s Udayabhanu, whose leg bones were shattered after a tree fell on him. While his wife was bedridden, his daughter was undergoing treatment for brain cancer.
Sunil pulled hundreds of families out of the deep abyss of poverty by providing them with a roof over their heads.
Helping people less privileged had always been a crucial part of Sunil’s formative years. As a student, she would deliver food from the hostel canteen to children begging at the seashore.
When she retired after years of teaching last year, she decided to completely immerse herself in the upliftment of the underprivileged by building pukka homes for them.
Over the last 12 years, Dr Sunil has mastered the art of lending a listening ear to all who come to her for help. But given the fact that she has no functional organisation and limited resources, she consciously selects her beneficiaries on a few parameters.
While most homes are constructed around her own home district Pathanamthitta, three homes, including one house in Kollam district and two more in Alleppey district are under the process of construction.
“The most effective selection process is personal visits and enquiry. Usually, we give preference to widows living with girl children in plastic sheds. These are women who have no protection or help from the government or organisations. We also give preference to families of persons suffering from terminal illnesses, physical and mental disabilities,” she says.
With no formal organisation, Dr Sunil has been working with Jayalal, a social worker who helps her with the housing projects. Even though the Dr MS Sunil Foundation was registered in December 2016, it is solely for accounting and sponsorship and is yet to become a full-fledged organisation, a dream Sunil harbours and aims to fulfil in the next two years.
While the expenditure of constructing a home in 2005 was one lakh, today the construction of each home costs a minimum of Rs 2.5 lakh.
Each home has an area of 450 sq. Feet and is equipped with one bedroom, a hall, kitchen, a sit out area and a toilet. The roof is made of galvanized iron sheets. Some families are also gifted solar lamps and LED bulbs to save electricity consumption and costs. The average time required to build these homes takes anywhere between 30 to 35.days.
Thanks to work Dr Sunil has done over the years, several sponsors come forward to fund her projects. But one rule she strictly follows is not to have more than one person contributing to a single home.
Whenever they face a shortage of funds, she puts in money from her pocket to fill the gap.
A few of her sponsors include four families from the United States and big names like Dr Philipose Mar Chrisostam Valiya Metrapolita, Dr Yuhanon Mar Chrisostam, Bishop Dr K.P. Yohanna, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien and film director Jude Antony.
Sunil continues to build homes from her own money even when they are no sponsors to back a family in dire need of a home. She not only buys all the raw material herself but also monitors the construction and instructs the workers every day on site with Jayalal.
Her job doesn’t come to an end merely after handing over the keys to the families. To help these families maintain a steady source of income, pay utility costs of their new home and improve their standard of living, Dr Sunil provides them with goats for livelihood too. Till date, she has provided 25 families with one goat each. Every month, she provides grocery kits to over 50 families too.
She has also started a self-employment unit for ladies and free tuition for underprivileged students. She also acts as an advisor to solve their family disputes and provides legal guidance to women and children being exploited.
Her husband, Thomas, a businessman and son Prince, pursuing his Masters of Science from Ireland, extend their full support to her work. Thomas even sponsored the complete construction of two homes.
Dr Sunil also conducts other activities like providing food and clothes to tribals, arranging medical camps, building tribal huts etc. Till date, she has constructed 28 tribal huts, donated over 100 digital hearing aids and 278 wheelchairs to marginalised persons personally through visits, donated free spectacles to senior citizens, school stationery to over a thousand students.
Every person she has ever helped has had a profound impact on her life too. Be it the smile of Saji Mol, the tribal girl she helped with a cleft lip surgery at Kottayam Medical college or Saramma, a widow who was contemplating suicide before Sunil stepped in.
Saramma lived with her parents and two children. While her son was deemed mentally unfit by the doctors, Saramma’s daughter had only studied till Grade 12. After Dr Sunil gifted them a beautiful house, Saramma was able to successfully marry her daughter.
Today her daughter is working in a private hospital and has a family of her own. Saramma works in a preschool as a cook now and is indebted to Sunil for her support through the years.
In her final message, Dr Sunil says, “I wish to serve the most-needy and downtrodden people in our country. But I need support from well-wishers. Today we are struggling with transport facilities for materials, and we don’t have our own vehicle or office space. But what I know for sure is, we have made it this far, and we are not going back. I will continue my work and strive to become the voice of the voiceless.”
Did Dr M.S.Sunil’s story inspire you? Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org