S.Paramasivan and S.Karthickeyan cultivate hope where there is none by offering the diseased the nutrition they need, writes SOMA BASU

It was a chance visit to an orphanage for two city youths that showed them a new way to help the needy. Two years ago they went to a Home with their friend who used to feed the destitute children every Sunday. “We were moved by the kids’ response,” recalls S.Paramasivan. When they enquired if they could do a similar service, they were informed that all the dates for the months ahead were already blocked by different people.

“We returned with mixed feelings,” says Karthickeyan, “so many good Samaritans were already helping in our city and we started wondering what else we can do.”

That is when it struck the duo to check out places which may not be frequently visited by volunteers. Their guess worked as they found no takers for the 160 patients at the Government Leprosy Rehabilitation Home in Pudupatti and 210 inmates of the Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Austinpatti, Tirunagar.

They immediately drew up a plan of action – to feed the inmates of both the centres either breakfast or lunch on alternate Sundays. Since the general health condition of the leprosy and TB patients were of concern, both Karthickeyan and Paramasivan decided on a nutritious meal. The healthy lunch consists of rice and chappati or puri with two vegetables, sambar, curd, vadai, apalam and payasam. For a healthy breakfast, they would pack idlis, pongal, rava kesri and a fruit.

“The symptoms of these diseases go beyond the physical indicators. There are social implications of poverty and disability issues too,” points out Paramasivan. “After watching their malnutrition up close, we wanted to foster the health and development of these people,” adds Karthickeyan.

What started as fortnightly visit has increased to 15 days a month in the last 18 months with their family friends and half-a-dozen more friends joining in. College students also come as volunteers now to serve the food and clean up afterwards.

Majority of the people who donate food in Homes usually leave the stuff and go. But Paramasivan and Karthickeyan make it a point to stay on. They themselves distribute the food and feed the beneficiaries. They get involved from the time of preparation ensuring that the best quality ingredients go in and also oversee the preparation. While another friend Raja helps in cooking, the two then transport the food in an auto to the venue.

Both of them contribute generously and when extra money is raised from more donations from friends, they cater to some extra needs as well. “It is our endeavour to help each patient live a life where they find some dignity. The inmates at both the centres have become so attached to the team that they depend on the free lunch or breakfast programme what for them is the only tasty and reliable meal of the day.

Earlier, they would silently eat, says Karthickeyan, but now they chat with us and even request us to get them tender coconut water or jigarthanda. “We oblige them as these are little luxuries for them,” adds Paramsivan. “They do not want to be disintegrated but identified as human beings,” they say.

In the past few months, the two friends have expanded their scope ad area of service. Now they are occupied almost everyday of the month also feeding 50-odd HIV-infected kids at St.Ann’s Home in Tirunagar, the residents of Cheshire Home for the Mentally Challenged Persons in Austinpatti on assigned dates. They have also made arrangements for supplying food packets to 35 visually challenged individuals at Periyar bus stand and the Railway Station. “We leave the food parcels daily at a telephone booth near the bus stand and a tiffin centre at the railway junction from where these people collect it,” says Karthickeyan.

Other than this, they have bought a television set and bed sheets for the leprosy centre on demand from the inmates and also pay the hostel fees for the girl children of the leprosy patients. For diwali, they buy all the beneficiaries at all the centres new clothes.

The service they do is big but they expect no returns. They have been silently going on with a slowly increasing band of supporters, volunteers, helpers and donors. “If there is a shortfall, we chip in more,” says Karthickeyan.

Both believe that it does not help to be compassionate by just flinging a coin to a needy person. The happy meal that they provide makes all the difference. “Because,” they say, “We are just not feeding them food but love and kindness.”

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail soma.basu@thehindu.co.in to tell her about someone you know who is making a difference)