In 2014, Chennai-based Angelin Prince founded her NGO, The Candles.
Apart from running projects in the areas of mental and physical health, a common practice for Angelin and her team was to distribute food to the homeless once in a week.
Shelling out money from their own pockets or with small-time donations from good samaritans on birthdays, anniversaries etc, the team would purchase food from hotels and deliver it to the underprivileged people on the pavements.
But since last year, the team gathers on Sundays, cooks the food and distributes it to over 50 homeless persons on their bikes.
It was during these visits that Angelin came across a number of elderly people suffering from Hansen’s disease or as it commonly known – leprosy. With the footpath for a home and the open skies for a roof, these elderly persons suffered silently.
It wasn’t just the physical pain of open sores they fought. The social stigma attached to those suffering from leprosy only added to their woes, ostracising them from mainstream society further.
Angelin knew she wanted to alleviate their sufferings. This led her to kickstart the initiative ‘Wound Care On Wheels’, a mobile medical service where she, alongside her team, cleans and dresses their wounds twice a week.
Using their own money or small offerings from volunteers the team buys dressing materials like betadine, gauze and gloves and approaches the people in need of help. They don’t force them or show sympathy while approaching these elderly persons in need of dressing.
Instead, with a lot of respect and empathy, the young volunteers guided by Angelin, who has a diploma in hand and leprosy physiotherapy, get their permission. The small team covers an area between Purusawalkam and Broadway, twice a week, to ensure the dressing is changed at equal intervals.
Speaking to The Better India, Angelin says, “We go to dress their wounds after 8 pm, usually on weekends, because during the major part of the day they are engaged in begging or menial jobs. We have taken down the contact of one of the persons who has a small phone, and usually, inform him to gather all those in need of dressing or medical attention on the days we visit.
“Most of these are elderly people abandoned by the own kids. About seven people we tend to regularly are all from other states who either speak Telugu or broken Hindi. Since most of us speak in Tamil, it becomes difficult. But that doesn’t stop us from helping them. Kindness has no language,” says Angelin.
But the struggles are many. Sometimes the elderly think that the team is doing it for pictures. So they avoid taking their cameras, and even on days that they do, they click only a few pictures to show sponsors who would be interested in funding this initiative says Angelin.
“Apart from dressing their wounds, we have started giving them accurate health education too. We serve them food and have started a drive to collect clothes, slippers, other daily items for them. Many of them are often dressed in the same pair of clothes and don’t have water to wash them. So these essentials come handy.”
Angelin adds how their vehicles always have spare bandages and ointments for those who need dressing more frequently.
Currently, Angelin’s team is in severe need of a scooty to help them distribute the food as well medical supplies and an auto to carry medical supplies and tend to the patients.
“An autorickshaw will really ease our mobility woes. We can make the elderly in need of dressing sit in the auto and attend to their wounds. Doing it on the footpath can be inconvenient since it is dusty and can soil the dressing,” says Angelin.
She shares the heart-wrenching story of two elderly persons and hopes it will help people to give up their prejudice against those suffering from Hansen’s.
“On the very first day, we met a couple. While the man from the Muslim community, the woman was a Hindu. Both of them were abandoned by their families after the death of their respective spouses. They both came to Chennai from different cities and have been living on the streets, begging to make ends meet. From the time they met, they have been helping each other, because they have no one to care for them. The woman is older, so the man shares everything he gets with her.
“If their families loved them enough they wouldn’t have to fend on the streets. When I asked the couple what they would do with the little money they were saving, they did not bat a lash before saying, ‘We will buy something for our grandchildren.’ They said they wouldn’t return home until they earned enough money. So, they are begging and saving to earn their respect back. These are just a few of the stories, we encounter everyday, as we tend to their wounds,” she adds.
Angelin hopes to get more sponsors on board to help them sustain this initiative. If you want to help her, get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 09940161296. You can visit their blog here.
Check their Facebook page here
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)