As a single woman at 26, Dr. Nirmala Jyothi adopted four orphans. Her ‘Joy Home’ family has now grown into a 75-member home

She comes across as an unassuming woman. But Dr. Nirmala Jyothi has a depth and strong sense of determination. What else can explain her decision to adopt four children as a single woman in 1989 while also balancing a demanding career as a medical practitioner? Today 25 years later, Dr Jyothi has under her care over 75 children and six elderly people in Joy Home for Children, which she founded, while she juggles a career as a doctor, her role as a wife and mother to three growing boys apart from everything else. Fondly addressed as “Aunty” or “Amma” by the children under her care, Dr Jyothi has for the last 25 years worked towards providing these children with a stable future and skills to be able to carve out a niche for themselves.

Started young

Quiz her on what prompted her to begin working with orphaned children and she says, “When I was 12, I was studying in a convent in Davangere, Karnataka. I was a paying boarder and we had a section of orphaned students as well. A classmate of mine was an orphan, and I would see her looking very sad all the time. When I asked her why she was so upset most of the time, she explained that she had no parents and at the school the orphans were given food that was leftover after we had finished our meal. Often the food was not sufficient to fill their stomachs. That incident changed something inside me; it taught me that I had to share what I had.”

Her parents too proved to be role models: with them helping the children working on their land by looking after them, getting them married and giving them some land at the time of marriage. “My parents never differentiated between those children and us. We were six siblings and not once did we get any preferential treatment; we ate the same food and wore the same clothes as the children, who worked on our land,” she explains.

Small start

When Dr Jyothi completed her medicine, she set up a nursing home in Jeedimetla in 1989 at the age of 26. Regardless of the fact that she was a single woman in the city with a very busy schedule she took in four orphans. “It was just something I wanted to do; give them a better life. Even when a marriage proposal was on, I told my prospective groom that I wouldn’t give up what I was doing. Only if he could support me in my endeavour would I get married. By God’s grace, I got a husband who has been extremely supportive of my work. Even our three sons are very enthusiastic about helping us and are very cooperative,” she says. From those four children in 1989, today Dr Jyothi has under her care over 75 children, some of them who are affected by HIV. “We began taking in children with HIV only 10 years back. It was not our original vision, but then we came across several cases of children losing their parents to AIDS and being shunned by their relatives. That is when we set up a home for them in Madhapur village in Nalgonda district,” she says. She had the orphanage registered in 2004.

Resistance she faced

The going however was not easy for Dr Jyothi. When she initially took in the four children in 1989 even her family was against it. “They thought I would complete my medicine and set up a hospital in our native town. They couldn’t see me juggle a job and work with the children etc. But gradually they came around. When I got married, my in-laws were also not too happy about it. My mother-in-law is still not very happy about this, but my father-in-law would only caution me to curb my expenses. Fortunately, I always had my husband’s support. In fact, today he and my sons handle our Mahindra Hills home where we have ten orphan boys under our care.” Although her family did come around and began to support her work, Dr Jyothi faced trouble in other ways. From the troublesome landlady who wanted the children to vacate the house, while she was away working in Davangere, to owners refusing to let out their house to an orphanage and nosy neighbours, Dr Jyothi has dealt with it all. She even gave up her job as a medical officer and shut down her nursing home in Davangere to move back to the city to be with the children and set up a proper home for them given the troubles they were facing.

Bonding with the children

For Dr Jyothi spending time with the children has been more than a mere obligation. Winning their trust and loving them like a parent came naturally to her. “Initially the children found it difficult to accept us. But as they stayed on and we loved them like their own parents; gradually they accepted us. My husband loves children and spends a lot of time with them. All of us share the same food, there is no separate kitchen. We eat together every day and until recently all of us even slept in the hall together,” she explains. The progress was slow but steady. There were times when some of the children would run away from the home, unable to accept being a part of the family. “But they came back themselves. It was a part of learning to live with us as a family. After all they have been through a lot themselves.”

Looking back

Some of the children that Dr Jyothi initially took in are now grown up and well settled. But they all still come back for festivals and birthdays. “Three of them are married, one has completed his mechanical engineering, and another is working with a reputed software firm, while one more works with an eye hospital. They are all on their own now, but come home for Christmas and important occasions. They call me if they are upset or need someone to talk to,” smiles Dr Jyothi.