J. Antonymuthu, a former TNEB engineer who has gone beyond the call of duty in supporting poor orphans
A month before his retirement, J. Antonymuthu, Assistant Executive Engineer with Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, met with an accident in Chennai. His right leg was broken and he required hospitalisation. It was during the time spent in hospital back in 1994 that he developed the urge to do “something good for the society.”
“I remember, I was asleep under a heavy dose of medication. When I woke up, father-in-law, who is a doctor based in Madurai, and my wife Lalitha, were beside me. I just told them I wanted to start an orphanage for poor children after I was discharged.”
Initially, the family tried to convince him to take voluntary retirement and shift to Madurai, but Antonymuthu's inner voice guided him elsewhere. With the retirement benefits which he received, he set up ‘Children Welfare Home' in 1995. Finding orphaned children with no or poor financial backing was not difficult in the metro and he gave shape to his dream with the first batch of 16 boys.
Recalls Antonymuthu: “Initially it was quite a struggle. We had a rented accommodation. These children were of different ages with hardly any education. Disciplining them was a major issue.”
Having set himself with a goal, he was not the ones to give up easily. Burning holes in his pocket, he ran the orphanage for 12 years providing everything for the boys whom he took under his fold each year through advertisements. From food, clothes, medicines, education, he paid for everything as even donations were not easy to come by. “They were, and still are, far and few,” he says.
Four years ago, Antonymuthu shifted to his wife's native town, Madurai. He has no regret mentioning how financially tough it is to fund a large family as his. On an average, this childless couple raised 16 to 20 boys each year. “In big cities, everything is more expensive. We felt life in a small town would be comparatively easy and we could also take more children from rural poor background and provide them with an opportunity to do well in life.”
With this renewed mission, Antonymuthu brought his orphanage to the Temple Town. While from his last batch of children in Chennai, a majority left after finishing Class XII, he brought the remaining few and found a dozen more to restart the orphanage. He built his own home which can accommodate 40 boys. At present, he has 26 boys, aged seven to 14 years, with him. All of them study in CSI High School, Pasumalai.
Talking about them, he says, “This age group is usually the most disobedient lot. They often run away and are difficult to control. Whoever is able to study well, we want to help them to study further. Though I provide free education, it is my regret that not a single child from my orphanage in these years has gone beyond Class XII. These kids are more interested in movies than studies.”
Living on hope
He follows up, fondly: “In the present group, I feel 90 per cent of them are good students and hope that some of them will surely fly high.”
What is a matter of consolation for him is that is does not cost too much to run the home in Madurai. What he complains of is the lack of sufficient hands to help. Antonymuthu also realises there are not many ways of raising funds either. But this down-to-earth Good Samaritan has stopped worrying. “I have realised blessings rain from the sky and God provides timely help,” he says, even though the advertisement he has placed in the papers for a warden has not evoked any response.
Today the orphanage is being run by Antonymuthu, his wife, a cook and a driver. He finds it difficult to manage without a warden because the bunch of pre-teen boys gets really unruly at times. “I am growing old and can't run around much,” he says. “But”, he adds, “I wanted to serve the starving and the poor. It is my dream to introduce some refinement and class in them by providing them the right kind of environment and opportunity.”
Kind-hearted people like Antonymuthu have demonstrated that each of us can contribute to the society – for the poor and the underprivileged. This Independence Day, he is our city's unsung hero.
(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)