On Monday Feb. 11, I had the honor and privilege of being taken by Mr. Rajiv Lochan to Apna Ghar in Katamtalla which is just outside of the city of Siliguri, India. Apna Ghar, under the auspices of Mahavir International, is a facility for destitute old people who don’t receive any assistance from their families or from the government. Apna Ghar provides them with a place to live (a room of their own that they call home), provides them with all of their meals and meets all of their health care needs for the rest of their lives. In return, they are responsible for keeping their own spaces clean, as well as doing their own laundry. The founders of Apna Ghar are philanthropists Mr. Subash Kumbhat and Mr. Sampatmal Sancheti. Both of these men have dedicated themselves to helping to care for the homeless in the Siliguri area to make sure that they are allowed to live out the rest of their lives with the respect and dignity that is the right of all human beings.
While at the facility we met some of the residents such as Monu Devi; a 76 year old woman who has been living there for 3 years. As you can see from the picture and the sign posted by her room, she is currently in good health and a universal blood donor. All of the residents that we spoke with felt blessed to have a place of their own where they didn’t have to worry about their food or health care. They all felt that they were treated with honor and respect.
The tradition in Indian families is that once a woman is married, she becomes bound to her husband and his family and is therefore his responsibility from that day forward. She is never able to return to live with her family of origin. In the event of a husbands premature death, the wife has no where to go and a return to her family of origin is further compounded by the reality that they are often living in conditions of extreme poverty themselves and cannot afford to care for another person. As a result, Mr. Rajiv Lochan, one of the core supporters of this facility, along with the founders, is helping to plan future project development of additional facilities to care for widowed women and children as well.
In India, the government can be slow and ponderous and as such doesn’t always get around to providing social services for many people who need it. It is also not uncommon for money that is designated for one project or another to find their way to other places or people. In addition, because much of the population lives in conditions of poverty, there is only a small segment of the population that can even begin to afford to donate money for private charities, and many from this small segment of the total population, don’t. For this reason, it is particularly noteworthy, through the selfless efforts of people like Sampatmal Sancheti, Subash Kumbhat and Rajiv Lochan that there is a safe place where people without anyone to care for them can live in dignity and call it home.