In light of World Food Day and World Poverty Eradication Day being observed this week, here is an ode to Mr P U Thomas who has been striving to improve the quality of life for the downtrodden.
For Mr P.U. Thomas, 69, fondly known as ‘Thomas Chettan’ in the villages of Kottayam, the day starts out on a very busy note. There is no time to spare, even for a cup of chai. He begins his day by visiting the members of his organisation, the Navajeevan Trust.
Sitting and chatting and giving words of comfort to over 200 people has become a routine for him. These words of comfort have become a source of joy for them.
In the afternoons, Thomas and his group of volunteers set out to provide around 5,000 packets of homemade food to the patients and visitors of three different hospitals in Kottayam, followed by tea, as well as dinner.
The love that the people of Kottayam have for him goes a long way.
About 40 years ago, Thomas was diagnosed with a peptic ulcer. He had to suffer in the general ward of Hospital, Kottayam for almost 22 days, with no money in hand.
While there, he witnessed the misery of patients struggling to find money for a single meal. That left a deep impression on the 19-year-old boy.
At 20, Thomas got a job as the mess boy at the Kottayam Medical College Boys Hostel. He was paid Rs 151 as his salary.
From this, he would spend Rs 5 to buy medicines for poor patients at the Medical College. He would also make sure to buy two packets of lunch every day, one for himself and one for any patient who couldn’t afford a meal.
On seeing these gestures of kindness by their mess boy, the students at the medical college started contributing to his cause and even collected excess food from nearby hotels.
A few years later, Thomas was appointed as an attendant at the Medical College and this paved the way for him to further connect with doctors and patients. He received generous contributions and recognition from the hospital and from people in and around Kottayam, as word about his work spread, leading to the beginning of Navajeevan Trust.
The experiences he faced in his own life instilled in him a compassion for the downtrodden, inspiring him to start this Trust.
The main activity of the trust has always been the rehabilitation of the homeless and mentally challenged patients. They are brought to the Navajeevan Bhavan by volunteers and the very next day, they are taken to the hospital.
Most patients recover after a few months of regular treatment and are sent back to their homes. If they are not welcomed there, they remain in the ‘Bhavan’ as volunteers.
The Trust, however, does not spare any effort to find the relatives of the abandoned. Thomas tells The Better India that the joy of getting back a relative needs to be seen to be believed.
Currently, there are more than 200 residents, from different parts of India, of whom 25 are permanently bedridden patients.
Unlike other rehabilitation centres, there are no armed guards or cells.
On asking Thomas if there is any language barrier in communicating with these patients, he says, “I don’t find any difficulty speaking with them, because the language of love overpowers everything else.”
Over 4,000 patients have regained their mental balance after coming to the Navajeevan Bhavan and some continue to be volunteers at the Trust.
The Trust’s food distribution system, which Thomas started at a micro-level at the Institute of Child Health, Kottayam, in 1970, gradually gained momentum.
Today, over 5,000 patients from three different hospitals in Kottayam are given home-cooked meals on a daily basis. During bandh and hartal days, these numbers escalate.
The patients at the hospital say that they could have never have dreamt of a complete meal if it wasn’t for Thomas Chettan. The Trust also provides boiled medicated drinking water in the Medical College hospital during summer.
The Trust has also expanded its services with free Ambulance services, finding blood donors, providing medical camps and check-ups for the underprivileged, palliative care etc. and about 100 deprived families, that live near the Trust, are provided with free rice every week.
Navajeevan began an initiative called ‘Clean and Green’ to ensure proper cleanliness and hygiene in the surroundings of the Medical College Hospital by clearing waste, planting trees and decorative plants.
One of the most important missions of the Trust is to generate a sense of awareness among society to be a source of comfort for those in need. The ‘Hands of Compassion’ initiative was introduced to encourage students to volunteer and inculcate compassion for the underprivileged. On visiting various schools, Thomas reached over 1,20,000 students.
Thomas’ family consists of his wife Laisamma and his five children. His youngest child was born paralysed and mentally challenged. Thomas believes that God gifted him this child because he had trust in him.
The concept that he follows is to live ‘one day at a time’. He never had a day when there was a lack of volunteers to help out or when he ran out of money to provide for the underprivileged. There were always people who were generous enough to help him in his cause and it is this belief in humanity that keeps him going.
“It is always easy to get money from the government and other foreign agencies. But this defeats the purpose of our mission. Which is why we only take contributions from well-wishers.”
Today, the daily expense of the Trust comes up to Rs 1 lakh.
Thomas Chettan remains an inspiration to the villages of Kottayam and the work he does is cherished by both the young and old.
If you wish to donate to Thomas, here’s how:
SAVINGS BANK ACCOUNT NO: 57011374494 ( STATE BANK OF INDIA , MEDICAL COLLEGE BRANCH, KOTTAYAM)
IFSC Code: SBIN0070111
(As the Trust is not registered under FCRA, NRIs may use their NRE/NRO Account for donations to the above account by cheque, NEFT/RTGS through Internet Banking Facility.)
or contact them at :
Phone: 0481 2596300, 2590300, Mobile: +91 9447366701
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)