Kerala resident Rajesh Thiruvalla spent his childhood amid poverty and abuse after his parents abandoned him at various stages of life. His way to turn the fortunes of others who are abandoned or rendered homeless is the Mahatma Janasevana Kendram, a safe home.
Unlike the kids who wished for toys and more play time growing up, all young Rajesh Thiruvalla desired was a peaceful home and a loving family. His father had abandoned him and his mother at an age he can’t even recall. The rest of his childhood was spent at the mercy of his mother’s family.
Life was never easy for Rajesh, whose family lived in abject poverty. Most days he slept on an empty stomach, falling asleep to the hurling of abuses by his uncles who drank heavily.
“I was hardly 10 years old when they started beating me. Whenever I think of those horrible nights, it sends a shiver down my spine,” Rajesh, now 47, tells The Better India.
While in Class 6, Rajesh set up a shop to sell lime juice and candies near a public ground where sports tournaments were held regularly. His investment was just Rs 5. “That place was full of kind hearts. People came in and paid double or triple for the drinks and sweets, and I made a profit of Rs 3 on day one. I ran this shop till Class 10 earn a living,” he says.
During the same period, he was associated with a nearby club that ran charitable activities like helping students with clothes, food and study materials. Many of his schoolmates were also part of this team. They directly visited homes to understand the situation and provided help.
“Even though I was also in need of such help, I could manage things by running the shop. But there are many others who can’t sustain their life by any means. I just went with the older students to visit homes and provide necessities. But it became my first introduction to charity and led to many similar activities in the future,” he shares.
However, the challenges didn’t end. Rajesh’s mother got married again and left him at his relative’s house in Thiruvalla, Pathanamthitta. This incident shattered the 15-year-old, who decided to run away.
“Following my mother’s abandonment, I went in search of my father with a mind full of revenge, feeling that he was responsible for all the misery of my life. Contrary to my expectations, I was welcomed wholeheartedly and he accepted me as his son. But I felt like a misfit in that family and travelled to other states in search of work,” he says.
The job hunt went on for 14 years, covering the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and more. Rajesh did a handful of jobs from daily wage work to electrical works and driving. Tired of all the odd jobs, he opted to come back to Kerala and settle down.
“Coming back here, I met the old team, who were still active in charity works. I would frequently join in the activities too. I also worked in a phone booth,” he says.
“As everyone knows about our work, people often contact us to share details of homeless or abandoned individuals from various parts of the city. The cases were many, and this led us to think of a home for the destitute. Me and my wife Preeshilda thus began Mahatma Janasevana Kendram in Adoor, Pathanamthitta, in 2013. The trust members include CV Chandran, G Anil Kumar, PK Suresh, Ajith Kumar and Benjamin A. Actor Seema G Nair is our patron.”
A home for everyone
“We started as a home just for the elderly. Our first inmates were senior citizens who are abandoned due to chronic illness, age-related difficulties, and other reasons. Today we accommodate children and adults too,” says Rajesh.
The home has three more centres now — Mahatma Janasevana Kendram (beggar home) in Angadickal South; Mahatma Jeeva Karunya Graamam (for cultural activities) in Kulathinal and Mahatma Janasevana Kendram, a self-employment training centre for elders in Kozhencherry.
They house a total of 300 adults and 10 children. Around 60 people are employed in these homes as nurses, accountants, security, and cleaning staff.
“When the number of inmates were less, we accommodated them in rented houses. By pooling the donations from kind people, we bought a five-acre land and gradually built 10 houses there. A group of seven people are accommodated in a house and food is prepared in a common kitchen for all the residents,” explains Rajesh.
He also adds that almost everyday, people come here to celebrate their birthdays, anniversaries or any other special occasions by providing food or clothes to the residents.
“Additionally, the residents and employees do farming, including vegetables and fish, inside the campus, the earnings from which are used to run the homes. We also run a candle-making factory where the residents can work. They are provided with monthly salaries and the remaining income is utilised for the maintenance of homes.”
On very few occasions, the trust receives help from the government, following many back-to-back requests and letters. “We are blessed to have a long list of well-wishers who are doctors, teachers, nurses, artists and more who offer free service for the residents at any time. We provide children with education, senior citizens and patients with good health care, and even marry off some adults,” Rajesh smiles.
Somaraj (62), father of Suraj (31) and a resident of Mahatma Janasevana Kendram since 2019 says, “My son has multiple disabilities including orthopaedic and sensory impairments. He needs external help for all day-to-day activities. While I was a theatre artist, my wife and mother used to take care of him.”
He continues, “Following their deaths and my inability to attend plays due to age-related issues, both of us stayed with my elder son. We were a liability to him and at one point I even thought of death. Our plight was reported by a media organisation and we were brought to Mahatma Janasevana Kendram. This is not an orphanage but a joint family for us. Our living conditions are better and my son’s health is improving. What more can I ask for?”
In 2021, two inmates in their 60s abandoned by their children were married at Mahatma Janasevana Kendram. On 13 November 2022, Rajesh is planning to conduct the wedding of two other residents, in the presence of a few honourable ministers of Kerala.
“They found their life partners themselves and all of us are excited to celebrate the event,” he says.
The 15-year-old boy who left his native place thinking there is no one left in this world to love him is now surrounded by 300 adoring parents and 10 affectionate children. Alongside, he is married and has four children too.
“Like Somaraj chettan asked, what more could I ask for?” says Rajesh.
If you wish to visit or donate to Mahatma Janasevana Kendram, contact +91 86062 07770.
Edited by Divya Sethu