Any ten-year-old who has been subjected to physical abuse throughout his childhood is likely to develop a negative view. One such story is that of Rajesh Thiruvalla who had an abusive childhood but there is a difference. He ended up making a shelter for the elderly.
Born at Kaviyoor panchayat in Tiruvalla, his father abandoned him and his mother too when he was too little to remember. The rest of his childhood was spent at the mercy of his mother’s family. Rajesh’s life was never easy because his family was impoverished. Most days, he slept on an empty stomach, falling asleep to the flinging of insults by his alcoholic relatives.
“I was barely ten years old when they began beating me. I still get shivers thinking about those horrible nights,” tells the forty seven-year-old Rajesh
While in Class 6, Rajesh opened a kiosk selling lime juice and candies near a public park where sports contests were held on a regular basis. His initial investment was only Rs 5.
“That place was full of good people. People came in and paid double or triple for drinks and sweets, and I made Rs 3 on the first day. I ran this shop until Class 10 to make a living,” he explains.
During the same time, I was inspired when I met a few people who were running a club. This neighbourhood group organised humanitarian activities such as providing clothing, food, and study supplies to students. Many of his classmates were also on this team. They went to people’s homes to assess the situation and provide assistance.
“Even though I needed such assistance, I could manage things by running the shop. However, there are many others who are unable to support themselves in any way. I simply went to homes with the older pupils to supply basics. However, it was my first introduction to charity, and it led to many similar activities in the future,” he explains.
However, the difficulties did not stop there. Rajesh’s mother remarried and abandoned him at the home of a relative in Thiruvalla, Pathanamthitta. This act broke the 15-year-old’s heart, and he chose to flee.
“Following my mother’s abandonment, I went in search of my father with a vengeful mind, believing that he was to blame for all of my misery. Contrary to my expectations, I was warmly greeted and treated as his son. However, I felt like an outcast in that family and moved to other states in search of work,” he recalls.
The employment search lasted 14 years, spanning Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and other states. Rajesh worked a variety of jobs, ranging from day labour to electrical work and driving too at times. Tired of doing various jobs, he decided to return to Kerala and settle down.
“When I returned here, I ran into the old team, who were still involved in charity work. I would frequently participate in the activities as well. I worked in a phone booth as well,” he adds.
“Because everyone is aware of our work, people frequently contacted us to share information about homeless or abandoned individuals from various parts of the city. The number of cases prompted us to consider establishing a homeless shelter. In 2013, my wife Preeshilda and I established Mahatma Janasevana Kendram in Adoor, Pathanamthitta. CV Chandran, G Anil Kumar, PK Suresh, Ajith Kumar, and Benjamin A are among the trust members. Our patron is actress Seema G Nair.”
We began as a home for the elderly. Our first detainees were elderly people who had been abandoned owing to chronic disease, age-related issues, and other factors. We now accommodate both children and adults,” Rajesh explains.
The home presently has three more centres: the Mahatma Janasevana Kendram (beggar home) in Angadickal South, the Mahatma Jeeva Karunya Graamam (for cultural events) in Kulathinal, and the Mahatma Janasevana Kendram, a self-employment training centre for elders in Kozhencherry.
They can accommodate 300 adults and 10 children. These houses employ approximately 60 individuals as nurses, accountants, security guards, and cleaning personnel.
“When the number of inmates was low, we housed them in rented houses. We purchased a five-acre plot of land and gradually erected ten dwellings on it using donations from generous individuals. A group of seven people is housed in a house, and food is prepared in a common kitchen for all the residents,” Rajesh adds.
He also mentions that practically every day, people come here to celebrate their birthdays, anniversaries, or other special occasions by bringing food or clothing to the inhabitants.
“In addition, residents and employees farm on campus, including vegetables and fish, with the proceeds used to run the homes. We also have a candle factory where residents can work. They are paid monthly, with the remainder of their earnings going towards home maintenance.
“We are fortunate to have a long list of well-wishers, including doctors, teachers, nurses, artists, and others, who provide free services to residents at any time. We educate children, provide good health care to seniors and patients, and even marry off some adults,” Rajesh laughs.
“My son has multiple disabilities, including orthopaedic and sensory impairments,” says sixty two-year-old Somaraj who is thirty one-year-old Suraj’s father and a resident of Mahatma Janasevana Kendram since 2019. Somaraj made a living by acting in plays nearby theatre. He needed outside assistance with his daily activities. My wife and mother used to look after him when I was in the theatre.”
“After the death of my mother and later my wife, things took a bad turn as there was no one to take care of my son. And as I suffered with age-related issues, I stopped getting work. Later, both of us stayed with my elder son. Soon, we realised that we were a liability to him, and I considered suicide at one point. A media organisation reported on our situation, and we were brought to Mahatma Janasevana Kendram. For us, this is not an orphanage, but rather a collective family. After coming here, our living conditions have improved and my son’s health also has been showing some good signs. What else we need, when everything has been taken care of. ”
In 2021, two inmates in their 60s were married at Mahatma Janasevana Kendram after being abandoned by their children. Rajesh married off two additional locals on November 13, 2022, in the presence of a few respectable ministers from Kerala.
“They found their life partners on their own, and we’re all excited to celebrate,” he says. The 15-year-old boy who fled his hometown believing there was no one left to love him is now surrounded by 300 devoted parents and ten affectionate children. He is also married and has four children.
“Like Somaraj chettan asked, what more could I ask for?” Rajesh says.