Young at 90, But Touching Lives Daily
Meet A Antony, one of the city’s successful industrialists. Antony, who has had a factory at the Ambattur Industrial Estate for three decades, is among the top donors of several charity organisations in the city.
But when one sees Antony in his Honda City with a serene smile, one can hardly imagine that he used to be a crippled teenage boy crawling through the streets of Chennai, arms outstretched for a stray paisa or two that would drop by. “Chengalpet station used to be my headquarters,” he says with a smile. “I was just a teenager when my stepmother asked me to earn money. I had never been to school and I could hardly walk. I tried selling lottery tickets but I realized people would rather give me a coin than buy the soiled tickets I held in my mouth – I used both hands to crawl.
It was when he was eighteen and begging at the airport, that a member of the Guild of Service found him and gave him her address. By then Antony had a history of begging and jail time. “I came to the Seva Samajam Boys Home at 10 am on a Wednesday in November 1975,” recalls Antony perfectly. It was there that life changed. He was no longer a cripple on the streets. He soon excelled in every skill taught to him and in 1978, was selected for a medal from the President of India.
Soon he was employed in a range of jobs, from running canteens to training disabled women, before he started his own factory with a sum of `1,000 in 1983 – Jayam Metals — a venture that is now booming.
I have no recollection of how I came to Chennai. I was 6 years old, alone, hungry and wandering on the streets when a kind Samaritan found me and took me to Seva Samajam Children’s Home,” says J Saleem.
Saleem could not mix with his fellow mates at the Home as he did not even understand their language, but he made them his family. “I only knew Hindi and Urdu when I first came to Chennai. I found it difficult to understand and study in school. My friends, who soon became my brothers and sisters, would patiently sit with me after school every evening and teach me Tamil and help me study,” he recalls.
He was soon enrolled in an English medium school. By the time he was in his early twenties he had already turned his ambition into a reality. He became a Chef at the Chola Sheraton hotel in Chennai.
But Saleem had to resign from his position due to a chest allergy and wheezing. That has not stopped the young man, though. “On hearing of my resignation, Amma (his mentor at the home, Jayalakshmi Narayanaswami) called me and asked me to help out at the Children’s Home and School. I happily started looking after the school administration and liaising with government agencies. After seeing my involvement and hard work, Amma appointed me as the Children’s Home’s Child Welfare Officer and PRO,” he says.
When she was 5 years old, mentally challenged Suganthi had more to face than perfectly healthy adults. The sudden death of her mother, the re-marriage of her father and the disappearance of her brother exacerbated the mental condition she was born with. And to top it all off, the little girl had neither friends nor family to turn to.
That didn’t stop her from achieving her goals. At 23, Suganthi earns her bread, cares for her husband and family and is a proud mother.
Most of her life has been spent in the Bala Vihar Hostel in Kilpauk, the place where she says she learnt everything in life. “From learning to read ABCD to getting trained as a beautician, every bit of my learning came from Guild of Service. Even my wedding was arranged by them,” she says.
It was Suganthi’s teacher who noted her interest in hairstyling, when she tried out new hairstyles for her friends. Eventually, she was enrolled in a beauty salon as a helper where she was trained. The staff at the salon were not exactly welcoming in the beginning, but her hard work and her eagerness to learn soon won them out.
Today, Suganthi works as a beautician at a popular parlour in the city.
When she dropped out of college in her first year of graduation, C Prabhavathi’s dreams hardly went beyond the limits of her house. It was two years after living as a housewife that Prabhavathi heard about Nutrition-on-Wheels (N-O-W), the women’s vocational training scheme organised by GOS. Always someone who was eager to learn new things, Prabhavathi jumped in to make the best of the opportunity. Prabhavathi enrolled as a trainee in the first batch of the ‘Hair and Beauty Therapy’ course conducted by N-O-W in 1993. Twenty years down the line, Prabhavathi runs three beauty parlours in the city, a fitness centre, provides customized wedding costumes, jewellery and gifts for weddings and above all, trains disadvantaged women in a range of vocational courses.
“The work goes on day-in and day-out – be it my business or my house work. But there is no stopping because I derive my happiness out of working. Every time a new course comes through, be it embroidery or jewellery designing, I am eager to learn more and add them to my business. But it all started with that one course at the GOS. I got a job immediately after the course and earned `20,000. With that money I got myself trained in every course available. There was no stopping after that,” she says.
Born to construction labourers in Maduravoyal, Sasikala was among the brightest students in her class. But for her parents, paying fees for a decent school when they had to feed a five-member family was not always the easiest thing to do. It was in 2006 that the family heard about the GOS’ Family Assistance Scheme through their relative. “The financial help meant that she continued in a good school and got all benefits, including extra tuitions. She passed school with marks that were good enough to enroll her in a good college,” says her proud father, M L Chandran. After completing her B E in Electronics & Communication in June 2013, Sasikala was placed in Wipro Technologies and she has been working there since June 2013.