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Reaching out to the needy

Amirtha Rajagopal single-handedly collects donations in cash and kind to support several social organisations in the city. A profile...

THOSE OF us inclined to do social service but think what can an individual do to change the world, can surely take a leaf out of Amirtha Rajagopal 's book. This 53-year old woman single-handedly supports over 20 NGO's in the city, caring for the visually and physically challenged, leprosy afflicted, elderly and destitute children, catering to a variety of needs from supply of rice, daal, soaps, shampoos, talcum powder, tooth paste to notebooks school bag, infrastructural aid and even scholarships. With no institutional organisational backing, Amirtha for the last 20 years has on her own mobilised support in cash and kind. Amirtha's involvement in social causes started with Akshaya, an organisation that reaches out to the differently-abled. She offered help by collecting used clothes and finding people who could sponsor the food of the inmates. She also got in touch with the distributors of leading FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) companies asking them to donate the superficially damaged products.

"I have been buying toiletries for my house from a distributor rather than a retailer and usually go for detergent powders in slightly damaged packs that are sold at a much lesser price. During one of my visits, I heard of the owner's decision to throw away damaged tins of talcum powder. I persuaded him to give them to me so that I could take them to the homes for mentally ill and leprosy afflicted, where patients with bed sores could use them. They gave it to me under the condition that I would discard the stock if it was not good. This distributor also put me on to other distributors from whom I could collect damaged goods," says Amirtha.

She has developed an understanding with these distributors. On a regular basis, she now confirms the availabilty of stock, collects the same and transports it to her house. In the next few days, the goods are cleaned, properly sorted out and delivered to various special homes. Biscuit manufacturers too regularly supply her biscuits. With such a wide network, Amirtha never runs out of stock.

Besides, she also collects rice from people staying near her house and hands it over to the NGOs. "I also get in touch with people who shift to other cities and want to dispose of household items." She often plays a friend in need to many blind couples getting married and pitches in to put together things they would need to set up a home.

Her help doesn't just extend to homes in the city but those in remote villages like Chellapatti. Explaining why she prefers to operate independently, she says, "If half a dozen people get together there will be differences of opinion on which organisation to support or not to. Here I can do what I want for as long as I can and then call it a day when I feel like it."

While the persuasive Amirtha doesn't take `no' for an answer easily, she says, people mostly don't turn down her requests for help. "People want to do charity. But don't know which organisations to support."

Accountablility has also helped a great deal. She ensures that thank you letters go out from the homes to the donors while she also takes a letter from the organisations confirming that they absolve her and the FMCG of any responsibility for problems arising out of the supplies which they agree to accept at their own risk. "I also give people the option to come and see for themselves the work being done and give the donations directly. Even actor Kamalhassan has extended his support to my efforts."

Amirtha follows a punishing schedule. She leaves home by 7.30 a.m. and returns late in the evening. Carrying a packed lunch of curd rice and pickle or making do with what she can get en route she criss-crosses the city visiting the distributors located in Tambaram, Chromepet, Pallavaram, Old Washermanpet, Korrukkupet, Kolathur, Egmore and Royapettah.

She can't possibly do all this without family support and Amirtha has the total backing of her husband, who works as a quality engineer for a tractor company. With both her well educated sons married and settled outside Chennai, Amritha's energies are consumed by social service. Presently, she is busy hunting for sponsors for the construction of an upcoming home for the mentally challenged.

If there is one thing that she asks God, it is for good health. So that she can carry on with her work. Good Samaritans like Amirtha Rajagopal definitely make the world a better place to live in.


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