Home for the destitute and dying ‘restores faith in the goodness of humanity’

Arjun Ramalinga, 78, once lived on the doorstep of a doctor’s clinic. He was weak, starving and moved around on his haunches. Life was an enduring struggle for him.

Unable to bear his plight, the doctor requested the help of Karunalaya (home of compassion). They  brought Ramalinga to the home where he was given regular physiotherapy. Now he can stand erect, walk perfectly and even care for others.

“It was really difficult for him initially but slowly he got adjusted,” said Father Victor D’Cruz, parish priest of St. Xavier’s Church in Jamboti village of Belgaum district and who has been associated with Karunalaya since its inception in 2004.

Karunalaya, a home for destitute and dying, was founded by Anita Rodricks and several friends who formed the Leomel Society. Ramalinga was among the first five people to be taken in by the home at Navage Village in India’s southern Karnataka state’s Belgavi district.   

Rodricks, who gave up her teaching career, said she bought a two-acre plot of land on the outskirts of Belgaum city for the home to be built.         

Among one of the home’s success stories is that of Madushree Gaidole. Through Karunalaya she was looked after, educated and later provided with a job. Now she is married, said Father D’Cruz who is also the president of Leomel Society.

He said that Gaidole was abused by her father; she was locked in a room and subsisted on a single daily meal. One day her brother confided his sister’s plight to some of his co-workers at a printing press and she was brought to Karunalaya.

“Gaidole wouldn’t eat or talk as she was traumatised,” said the priest. “After a course of medication, she opened up and told us she wanted to study. She had failed in the ninth grade but could paint beautifully. We sent her to a Salesian convent where she stayed and completed her tenth standard,” he said.

Father Victor D’Cruz speaking on the occasion of Gratitude Day (Dec. 28) to give thanks to Karunalaya’s benefactors at the home in Navage village in the southern Indian state Karnataka’s Belgavi district. (Photo supplied)

After that Gaidole was sent to the Sisters of Maria Bambina for training as a nursing assistant in Candolin Goa. After the training she was employed in Cardinal Gracias Hospital in Belgavi district.

One day she went home to attend a wedding. There she found a suitor and they are now happily married with a child.

Many people have had a dignified life after coming to Karunalaya. It is all thanks to Rodricks who is now dubbed the ‘Mother Theresa’ of Belgavi, said theologian Virginia Saldhana, Rodricks’ classmate.

Desire to help

On how she embarked on this mission, Rodricks said “often during vacations I would visit Missionaries of Charity’s Sneha Sadan at Hubli in Karnataka and volunteer there.”

“I had a great desire to help the dying and destitute,” said Rodricks, 71, who was widowed at an early age. 

Rodricks then envisioned a home providing physical nourishment, emotional support, medical assistance, and care to the dying, destitute and poor.

“When she first confided to me she had the kind of zeal that I knew she would pull it off,” said Father D’Cruz. “So with some like-minded people we explored the possibility of setting up such a home which succeeded in due course,” he said.

Rodricks said that without the selfless help of some of her friends and relatives the home would not have been possible.

“I named the society Leomel after my late husband Melwyn Rodricks and my deceased mother Leopoldina Gomes,” she said.

Her son and two daughters, who are computer engineers in the United States, are Karunalaya’s major financial supporters. Karunalaya also relies on charity from the general public.

Father D’Cruz said that getting permission to begin Karunalaya was a huge challenge. “But somehow she managed to overcome all the hurdles,” he said.

“We now have 65 people staying at Karunalaya. Our members found them wandering on the streets aimlessly, starving and some had become ill after they were abandoned by their children,” he said.

When Rodricks started she did everything herself even washing and cleaning the inmates. “Today she still stays with them and eats with them. The place is spotlessly clean and well-maintained,” said Father D’Cruz.  

A Karunalaya dormitory. (Photo from Story Cast/Youtube.com)

For those abandoned

Rodricks said that Karunalaya is not an old age home. “It is specifically meant for the dying, destitute and poor who are abandoned and lonely transgressing boundaries of faith or race,” she said.

Vijay Moogi, a Hindu architect who designed the home, said he has never seen a lay person so dedicated. “Nuns do such kind of work as part of their ministry but this woman’s work is amazing and infectious; so my wife and I too volunteer at the home,” he said.

Moogi spoke of an incident when Rodricks picked up a 65-year-old man with a bandage on his leg from the roadside. “At the home she opened his bandage  and the smell that exuded made her vomit but she nursed him and got the skin grafting done,” he said, adding that the man is now fit and fine.

Psychiatrist Dr Belinda Viegas said she has seen patients being brought into the home in a pitiable state. “I would never imagine to see them again but on my next monthly visit they would be there recovered and actually blooming. The care and love they get there makes all the difference,” she said.

Many of the those in the home suffer from various psychiatric disorders. All come with a lot of baggage from the past; feelings of being discarded and rejected by family members. But at Karunalaya they are welcomed and accepted as they are. They have a sense of belonging, a family feeling, Viegas said, who then gave some examples.

“There is Marie Luz, a chronic schizophrenia case, who used to laugh and talk to herself. Her crying fits reduced after coming to Karunalaya. She was on high dosage of medication but in this safe environment she has revealed her very lovable character and everyone is fond of her,” Viegas said.

“Philip Pereira is another very lovable inmate who suffers from cerebral palsy and is wheelchair bound. He is always cheerful but makes sudden loud alarming sounds,” she said.

“When Succour Das first came, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, he was totally disturbed, hallucinating and trying to run away. It was difficult to communicate with him but he has now settled well, is quite helpful and one of my favourites there,” she said.

“For me, personally, there is always a wonderful feeling when I visit Karunalaya,” said Viegas who is based in Goa.

“It is a little bit of heaven that restores one’s faith in the goodness of humanity, especially when one sees the direction society as a whole is taking,” she said.

Those wishing to contribute to Karunalaya, please visit www.karunalaya.org

Watch a short firm on Karunalaya below:

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