“We don’t need all the money we make. We just need a part of it to survive and the rest can be used to help the ones in need,” says Shinod PC, who with his wife Bindhu has been on a mission to help poor families.
Hailing from Kodungallur, Kerala, this couple has been donating a major portion of their income over the last two decades as a ‘welfare pension’ to several poor families in the nearby areas. The couple also runs a sevana kendram (digital service centre) at home, where they provide free services to the poor like helping them avail government provided schemes and services.
“People think that money is the most valuable thing in their life and only it can bring happiness. But it’s not money but time that’s more valuable,” Shinod tells The Better India.
“Realising this, I took the VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme) from my government job to make use of the time I have to focus on social services,” says Shinod, who was an administrative officer at the LIC.
Shinod, who started out helping people when he got his first job in 1996, was later joined by his wife Bindhu after they got married in 1998. “It was an arranged marriage. When I met him, he told me not to wear any jewellery except for a small chain and two bangles for the marriage. He was totally against the concept of dowry. That’s when I realised he is different and later agreed to marry him,” says Bindhu, who works as a Maths teacher at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan School Kodungallur.
‘Money Isn’t Everything’
Growing up in a poor family, Shinod says, he had to work as a newspaper boy at the age of 10. “The responsibility of my whole family fell on my shoulders while I was in Class 7. There were times when we couldn’t even afford to buy medicine for our ailing father. He passed away while I was in Class 10,” recounted the 50-year-old.
While enduring hardships in his childhood, he took refuge in books. “I used to wonder why is this happening with me and why do we need to struggle. I found the answers to my questions in books. By reading several books, I realised that certain values can create an impact on our lives. So, I took a different path and chose to follow those values,” he says.
He continues, “I used to help people in whatever way I could. But it was only in 2008 that my wife and I started this initiative in an organised manner.”
The couple has only used their salaries and arrears for their charity. “After spending on our basic needs we were able to save a lot of money,” he says
Starting from 2008, the couple created a system around their donations by collaborating with ASHA workers and started giving out money as a welfare pension to the poor and deserving families.
“We wanted to make sure that the money reaches the right and deserving hands. So, we sought help from ASHA workers in the area to collect data on families that are in need of help. We used to provide them with a data sheet where they could collect the information about those families who are seeking financial aid,” he says.
He explains further, “We had fixed a few criteria to select the most deserving families from the datasheet. One of our criteria was avoiding families with members who are alcoholics, smoking addicts, etc. as we are strictly against it.”
After identifying the families in need, the couple visited their houses to verify the details and then gave out money from their salaries as a monthly welfare pension. “We had visited over 500 houses, which were mostly in a proximity of 7 km from our place. We don’t advertise or promote our service, it was done only through ASHA workers. Our efforts were later publicised through word of mouth,” he says.
Speaking of the amount they donated to each family, he says, “We both were salaried back then and we had more money to share. There were around 150 families whom we helped financially. We donated Rs 300 to Rs 2,000, to these families on every first Sunday of the month. We used to fix locations where they met us to collect the money. When the economical status of the beneficiaries improved over the years, other families were identified for donations.”
Later, when the government increased the amount that they give out as part of the social welfare pension programmes, many of the families got a stable monthly source of income and the number of dependents decreased.
After taking VRS from his service around five years back, Shinod dedicated most of his time for charity. “Before retirement, I used to receive around Rs 1 lakh as salary but now I receive a pension that is almost 1/5th of what my salary was. But my wife’s still working. So, we still manage to give out donations but not as much as we used to give before. Also, the number of families we help have decreased to around 30 families now,” he says.
With more time on their hands, the couple has stopped working with ASHA workers. “We now visit the poor families to give out the donations,” he adds.
Apart from giving monthly welfare pensions, the couple also gives out donations as a lump sum “We can’t tell you a fixed amount we spend every month for charity but we distribute over Rs 20,000 every month on the welfare pensions alone. Additionally, we donate monthly lump sums for requirements like their medical emergencies, weddings, etc,” says Shinod.
Santhakumari, a 72-year-old woman is one of the beneficiaries of the welfare pension scheme. “I have been receiving help from them for the past 2 – 3 years. They visit me every month and provide me with a pension of Rs 500 and they have never missed it even once. Apart from that I also receive the monthly welfare pension from the government. I stay all by myself so I am managing with these donations.”
Besides donations, the couple has been running the sevana kendra (digital service centre) where the poor can avail services for free. “While we visited people in their houses, we realised that most of them are unaware about the government schemes that they can avail. So, we help them avail of those benefits. That’s how we started the sevana kendram in 2021,” says Bindhu.
Asked about how much money they have spent on charity to date, she says, “We don’t keep a record of what we have spent.”
The couple has two sons, one is employed in Bengaluru and the younger one is doing his engineering in a government college. “It’s just the two of us now and our monthly expenses are less than Rs 10,000. So we use the remaining money for charity,” he concludes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)
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