Kurian Varghese, founder director and manager of Toc-H institutions, also works extensively toward care, respect and freedom for the mentally challenged

A strange noise emanating from a house in Mulanthuruthy led Kurian Varghese, founder director and manager of Toc-H institutions, to peep through a window to see what the source was. The house was locked, there was nobody in sight. He was shocked by what he saw. “A young girl of about 15 years was lying in a bed in the dark room.” The girl was mentally-challenged and her family, fearing ridicule from society, had kept her locked up.

The memory of the young girl stayed with him. That incident, in 1975, turned out to be a catalyst that set him thinking about doing something for such children. The chance came in 1980 when he became a director of Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). When he suggested to the board of YMCA that a home for the mentally challenged be set up, he was told that there weren’t enough funds.

A matter of sanction

The following year he repeated his request and the board repeated their stance. “I, then, told them to leave the finances to me. I just wanted their sanction, which they eventually gave” says the octogenarian. A former president of the YMCA, Advocate Pathrose, donated an acre of land in Vadavucode, near Kolenchery, to set up the home. It was a small house with a few mentally-challenged children. This facility was called Chethas.

The next year, in 1982, Varghese took over as the president of Y’s Men. He was able to raise funds through donations to construct a hall and toilets. He also contributed the furniture. The home for the mentally-challenged was inaugurated by the Governor of Kerala in 1983.

It was a time when there was little or no awareness about mental retardation, but apart from the fund ‘problem’ there were no challenges, he says. “People were relieved that there was a place where the children could stay. I wanted these children to have freedom, rather than be locked up and hidden.”

The home for the mentally-challenged was shifted to Thrikkakara where the YMCA had four-and-a-half acres of land on which was located the YMCA Boys Home in 1992. The home, exclusively for mentally-challenged boys, was christened Chaithanya. Varghese has been the chairman of the institution since 1983.

However, the fund ‘problem’ did not end with building the home; money was required to run the establishment. “Due to the property’s proximity to the Model Engineering College, parents whose daughters were studying in the college wanted a hostel facility close to the college. It was decided to build a hostel there for girls.” Varghese raised Rs. 18 lakh for the hostel. Today, it boasts of full occupancy, and an extension of the hostel is being planned. The profits from the hostel go into the running of Chaithanya.

Making a mark

The residential facility today has around 25 students. The boys are provided basic vocational training.

He has tried to provide the freedom that he wanted the mentally retarded children to enjoy. As he is guided into the class by one of his assistants the entire class stands up and choruses, “Namaste.” As they pose for a photograph, Varghese wants the boys to stand closer. The room serves as a vocational training unit, library and leisure room.

Wanting to do something is one thing. But acting upon that wish and making sure it happens demands a strong resolve. These were times before corporate social responsibility became fashionable. “When I was living in Kolkata I had seen abject poverty. I saw the landless and homeless in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. I was driven by the suffering that I encountered.”

The YMCA Boys Home campus is getting ready for another of Varghese’ projects — an old age home. “It has become a necessity. There is no secure place for parents, what with children working outside the State or overseas.” The facility will be ready by January, he says. There will 22 units —self sufficient suites. The other facilities include a common canteen and a lift. There are plans to build more suites, “depending on the response.”