Udavum Karangal Site Visit Report

US Chapter: Asha Seattle

Compiled by Subashree Kumar Asha NYC/NJ, Asha SV 
Date: FEB 25, 00 . 

I had made an appointment to see Mr. Vidyakar, the founder of Udavum Karangal. I was supposed to meet him the next day at 11:00, I get a call from him at 12:00 midnight telling me that he has been called in to pick up a patient and he would have to postpone. I went in the next day after rescheduling. 

Mr. Vidyakar's van had just come in after picking up the patient. He was flushed, in a state of high action. A group of volunteers immediately crowded around the van and Mr. Vidyakar. Mr. Vidyakar gave them rapid-fire instructions: "Take the patient to the sterile area first, Do not take her inside, her hand is gangrenous, do not uncover the blanket." In between all this, my mother and I hung around watching. A rush of phone calls, paramedics came, the van was taken away to the residential hospice. After 1 hour of talking to the doctor and paramedics, Mr. Vidyakar sat down with us. He was very agitated. He said that the police station knew about this woman, but did not bother to call a hospital. The local slum people called him saying that there was this woman who was almost dead, she was lying on the sidewalk. They told him that if he could not come the next morning, do not bother coming in as it would be too late. Her hand was gangrenous and someone had covered her with a blanket. Even if you lifted the blanket, worms came out of the infected areas. 

No one would go near her, not even the police...Finally Vidyakar was called because no one else would accept her. At this point I was feeling guilty taking up his time, even sitting there. When I brought up the issue of funding children, he became very agitated. "we talk about funding, we talk about dollars, we talk in terms of bringing literacy levels up, but there is no one to pick up the child off the street.. everyone is a person, everyone has a right to live.. " and he went on, very upset, very involved. Vidyakar, I then learned from talking to the volunteers, is called in to pick up patients like these close to twice a week. Most infants are abandoned in dustbins close to 80% of UK's children are found that way. Udavum Karangal gets called around 3-4 times a week to pick up deserted children. The other type of people that UK typically deals with is the mentally ill psychiatric patient who has been abandoned by the family and wanders the streets in a semi conscious state till someone calls help.

Then I went with Mr. Vinayakam (a volunteer) to see the homes and residential facilities. The main office is Mr. Vidyakar's residence; he and the other volunteers live there. The day I went, there was activity in the stock room, and there were 2 or 3 volunteers from the general public who had come in to help out. We went to the Ramkrishna Vidya Niketan around lunchtime. All the children were lining up to go back to school after lunch. They all have V. for their initials. We then went to the residential homes, there were around 5 homes, each housing 10 children and each with a residential "mother". We visited the school. All the children were neat, in clean uniforms and well cared for. Then the Shishu Bhavan: a room full of cradles, each cradle with an infant. There were 2 or 3 women taking care of the babies when we were there. Vinayakam immediately picked up a baby and started playing with her. 

One baby was standing on the edge of the crib grinning wildly. I found it very hard to relate a beautiful smiling baby with the circumstances that she had just been in. This was the hardest part of the trip. Then we saw other homes, which housed "mr" patients: psychiatric patients. Candles were being sold everywhere. After the visit to the homes, we went back to Mr. Vidyakar's house. He is a simple man. There are pictures of Mother Theresa as well as an interesting print, which has a mosque, church and temple in the same frame, everywhere. Mr. Vidyakar says that he does not want to sell Indian poverty, he wants people to be involved in his mission one person at a time. I felt honored meeting him.


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