Society

Serving the deserving

KIND HEARTED: Berlin Jose, Founder of Russ Foundation. Photo: S. James

KIND HEARTED: Berlin Jose, Founder of Russ Foundation. Photo: S. James

He is not the first to quit the world of commerce and dedicate his time, energy, money and resources to charity. It is just that very few show their commitment with such conviction as Berlin Jose, the founder-director of Russ Foundation.

In his opinion, poverty and AIDS continue to be the two biggest challenges. “I want to help HIV patients, especially the girls, and make their lives a little easier,” he says.

According to him, girl children with HIV infection undergo lot of trauma as they attain age. Their safety, hygiene and early adolescence counselling can go a long way in preventing suicidal attempts.

Jose rues that despite awareness campaigns and rallies, meetings and observance of World AIDS Day, HIV-affected children cannot still walk free without stigma. “It requires a drastic change in peoples’ mindset.”

Identifying with the needs of the less privileged comes easily to Jose given his upbringing. His father, who managed the YMCA Boy’s Home in Madurai till 1988, influenced him a lot, he says.

“I was practically brought up with orphan children,” he says. But what surprised him was the ratio of boys and girls in various Homes and prompted him to undertake a survey. The risk and cost factor of maintaining girl children, their safety and issues of hygiene emerged as the most common reason behind fewer girls in care centres.

After studying in London and working in Sweden, when he returned to India, Jose started by helping three girl children on whom neighbours, friends and relatives had closed their doors. The trauma of losing their parents to AIDS at a tender age was too much to handle for these HIV-positive orphans. Jose stepped in and provided them food, medicines, shelter, education, love and care.

Today, these girls, whose number has grown to 120, live a good and respectable life. They not only have good accommodation but also pursue their education, undergo vocational training, find jobs and get married.

To set up the foundation and run the Home for the orphaned kids, Jose used 18 acres he owned in Chatrapatti. “The land or money that you possess should have a grander purpose,” he says humbly.

Jose named the Foundation after his father’s friend Siegfried Russ, a German automobile engineer, who sponsored his higher studies. I wanted to recognise him and give back to society, he says, adding when he adopted the first HIV-infected girl, he realised he had never been more sure about anything in his life.

Regular intake of medicines, nutritious diet, clean warm drinking water and hygienic toilets puts these girls in better condition and they start believing that they are not just patients but also human beings. The sprawling campus that Jose provides the girls also helps in creating positivity among them. “I believe in spreading happiness and tell my girls not to brood. Today, they understand that HIV-infection is perhaps better than diabetes,” he notes.

The Russ Foundation also runs several targeted intervention programmes in the city. One of its major community-driven prevention programmes is for the female sex workers in vulnerable urban pockets of Sellur, Thathaneri, Kailsasapuram, Tallakulam and Goripalayam. A special clinic-cum-laboratory is being run with a counselling centre to benefit the target community.

The overall objective of this programme is to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS to develop an AIDS-free society.

“We can leave money to charity when we die,” says Jose, but it is always better to do something while we are still living.”

(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)


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Printable version | May 17, 2022 6:22:33 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/serving-the-deserving/article6567515.ece