In 2008, Durai Prithviraj (35), a resident of Virudhunagar district in Tamil Nadu, found himself in dire need of an ambulance. His younger brother had met with an accident, 20 km away from his home, near a village named Aruppukottai.
“We were studying in college when my brother met with the fatal accident. No one around that area could offer immediate help because there was no ambulance or hearse van to take his body to the hospital or bring him back home. I had to pay a large sum of money to arrange the facilities and conduct his last rites,” says Durai, who was deeply troubled by this incident.
This made him think about the plight of people living below the poverty line. He wondered what they would do if they ever faced such a situation.
Now, a decade later, Durai owns two ambulances and an NGO named Rajesh Udhavum Karangal, to support those in need. The ambulances are used to transport people within a 40-kilometre radius of Virudhunagar, to and from the hospital.
Saving money from his salary
In 2011, after graduating from college, Durai got a job as a village administrative officer with a decent salary. He started saving money from his earnings to purchase a van which he could use as an ambulance for his village.
“Every month, I’d save almost 50% of my earnings to purchase the van. Apart from that, I would spend some more money from my salary, and raise the rest of the amount from others to help those in need. This includes providing them with bedding, blankets, clothes, food, and medicines,” says Durai.
By 2018, Durai saved enough money to purchase a second-hand Omni for Rs 1,80,000. Further, by raising some money from friends, colleagues and family members, he was able to modify the interiors, add a bed and purchase a few first aid kits.
“We offer free rides to those who cannot afford it, and to those who can, we take whatever they wish to offer. This money is collected as donation and put towards the maintenance and petrol costs for the van,” says Durai, adding that they have offered help to patients who were as far as 100 km away from their village.
Vijay Ganesh, a resident of Aruppukotai, who works as an office assistant at a private college says that Durai’s help has given life to poor people in their village.
“A close friend of mine from college was diagnosed with cancer in 2019. We had to get medicines and transport him to the government hospital to treat him with chemotherapy. The officer not only paid for all his expenses but also ensured he received timely treatment during the lockdowns,” says Vijay, adding that Durai never asked for a rupee in the process.
Help pours in
After hearing about Durai’s service, several other government officers, individuals, businessmen, and extended family members were keen on offering monetary help to fund his cause.
Soon, the word about Durai’s service spread across the state and several media channels interviewed him and amplified the work he was doing. To help Durai expand his ambulance service and provide help to more people, an anonymous donor offered to provide one more van.
The donor purchased a second-hand van, had it modified by removing the seating in the back, and donated it to Rajesh Udhavum Karangal.
“He wanted to remain anonymous but asked us to name the second ambulance after his late grandmother, Aandalamma. On the rear window, we have written the words ‘Aandalammavin thunai’ which means ‘under the protection of Aandalamma’,” says Durai.
Durai has also converted a part of his home into a shelter where anyone can walk in to get free meals or find a place to sleep.
“There are 15 volunteers who are part of the NGO who help with cooking, cleaning, and serving food. We also have doctors and MBBS students who volunteer now and then to offer free medical help,” says Durai.
Even after the COVID-19 pandemic set in, Durai and five volunteers have continued to offer help to the people in his village.
“With permission from higher officials and having received necessary PPE kits from them, we continue to transport people from remote areas to the nearest hospitals. Apart from that, patients who need to visit hospitals for their chemotherapy or dialysis book in advance and we keep one vehicle free for them,” says Durai, adding that for the last 237 days, he has been serving three meals a day to 120 people.
The funds to make these meals and distribute them are collected through 500 donors who are part of WhatsApp groups.
“The list of donors keeps growing. Whenever there is a requirement for anything, I post it on the group and help will pour in,” says Durai.
If you wish to help Durai Prithviraj or refer his free ambulance service to someone living in that area, here are his details:
Name: Durai Prithviraj
Phone number: 9842122046
Account Name: Rajesh Udhavum Karangal Trust
Account Number: 1709135000002042
IFSC Code: KVBL0001709
Edited by Divya Sethu