At first sight, you may assume that the Santhawanam Charitable Trust in Kottayam is an orphanage or even a rehabilitation centre for women and children. Housing about 90 orphans, abused young mothers, and elderly abandoned women, what Santhawanam is, is a home for those who have nobody, asserts Annie Babu, its founder.
The 61-year-old opened her doors to orphaned children and distressed women in 2007 after an incident that changed both Annie and her husband’s life, forever.
Having always been drawn to social welfare and helping those who were downtrodden, Annie had spent her adulthood volunteering at Thanal, a charitable body for downtrodden and distraught women, which eventually led to her becoming the secretary of the organisation.
At one point, the lack of space and inadequate funds to accommodate more people left Annie with no option other than to refuse shelter to many of them. Unfortunately, she later found out that two women had committed suicide, and the tragic incident was followed by the brutal murder of a woman by her alcoholic husband.
These incidents traumatised Annie to the extent that she resigned from the organisation and decided to channelise her social commitment in the way she wanted to. It was during her one-month notice period when a 3-year-old girl named Muthu (name changed) was brought in by police officials to Thanal.
Upon further inquiry, they learnt that the child was abandoned by her own family in a train, as they believed that Muthu was an ill omen. Annie tried her level best to unite the child with her family, but they were extremely superstitious and refused to budge.
So, Annie decided to adopt Muthu, despite having two sons of her own. Although Annie and Babu were initially granted Muthu’s custody, the law seemed to be against them as their combined age of 90 barred them from adopting a child. The court then ordered the duo to release the child to an orphanage within seven days.
Annie and Muthu were extremely reluctant to let go of each other. Annie did not want to give up the child but was duty bound to accept the court’s directive.
This was when she realised that the difficult situation was an opportunity, and ‘Santhwanam’ came into being.
It was officially registered as an orphanage in 2007 with seven kids. Soon enough, the place was recognised by the police and other authorities as a safe haven, and they started bringing in abandoned or rescued children and distressed young women. Today, Annie is a mother to over 50 children, of which 48 are school-going students. There are three young women studying for their graduate degree in Nursing, while another one is pursuing her post-graduate degree in Social Work.
“Mother means love. Everybody has shortcomings, a mother is one who understands this and stands by her children through thick and thin. She gives them faith, hope and confidence to achieve in life,” said the amazing woman, to Manorama, a local Malayalam daily.
Providing for the inhabitants at Santhwanam often proves hard on Annie and Babu’s pockets, who have not found any financial support from the government or international agencies. However, more often than not, they have received aid in the form of money and provisions from people and sometimes even strangers.
According to Annie, most women who come seeking asylum at Santhwanam are almost on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
To help them slowly come out of their trauma, Santhwanam provides psychological treatment counselling, meditation, police intervention and free legal aid to these women as per the situation and later, opportunities that can help them attain self-reliance and financial independence through education, job oriented trainings and placements in vocational institutes.
At times, Santhwanam faces trouble in the form of irate husbands or relatives. This is when Annie seeks police intervention, and they have always come to her aid and protected the premises.
Santhwanam received a significant blow when the Supreme Court mandated a generalised set of requirements for all kinds organisations and shelters for children and such bodies must be identified under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.
Being a self-financed organisation that largely depends on individual donations, Santhwanam was almost on the verge of closing when again, citizens stepped up to ensure that the institution continues to leave its doors open for the downtrodden.
Despite struggling through money and supply shortages, Annie and Babu are instilling hope in countless kids and women in the form of a home and showing them that, if given a chance, they too can overcome challenging situations.
You can support Santhwanam and help more children and women have a safe haven by calling at 0481-2590630, 9447568244. You can also check their website here.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)