CHENNAI: In May 1999, a child abandoned on the streets of Aminjikarai set in motion events that changed the lives of several children with physical and mental disabilities.
Selvyn Roy, a clinical psychologist from Nagercoil, got a call from a friend about the child — who was abandoned because there was something ‘not quite right’ about him. That was 17 years ago. And the little boy, now a grown man diagnosed with cerebral palsy has never known what it’s like not to have a family. But that’s not the end of the story. In fact, that was only the beginning.
“When we found him, he was very fragile and we took him to a hospital. The first thing the doctors did was ask for his name to prepare the case sheet. We stood there confused,” recollects Selvyn. “It was then that we decided to name him Prem Raj.”
Prem, meaning love, of course. Caring for the uncared came naturally to Selvyn, as he had already been looking after a girl with disability called Indra. Prem coming into his life pushed him to start a home for the handicapped, destitute and abandoned. No surprises that he called it Prema Vasam.
He moved both of them into a small, rented house in Kovoor and began rehabilitating them. Indra was keen in continuing her education but her family could not afford it. So, Selvyn decided to quit his job to help her get there. “I would carry Indra to school and bring her back and look after her,” he says proudly.
Indra has completed MCA and BEd is a qualified special educator at Prema Vasam — one among eight special educators who cater to the special children in the home.
Today, Prema Vasam, Gerugambakkam, has 200 others, with various mental and physical disabilities. The only thing they have in common is that most of their parents chose to abandon them. “We have got children where even the doctors have told us it is difficult for the child to survive, but some of those children are still having a happy life with us,” he points out.
Though this can often be traumatic, the fact that they have Selvyn is a major boost. “Though they do not know who their parents are, they get excited when they hear Selvyn’s voice,” relates Mumtaj, co-ordinator of the Trust.
As word about the NGO spread, the phone lines started ringing more frequently with instances of children being abandoned in residential areas like Villivakkam and high traffic zones such as the Tambaram Railway station. “Children who were rejected for adoption because of their disabilities always found space with us,” she adds.
What is truly surprising for Selvyn and team are when guilt-ridden parents eventually make their way back, only to realise that they can’t even recognise their children anymore. Like the case of 12-year-old Bharath whose parents had a second ‘normal’ son that kept them too busy to visit for six years.
“Suddenly one day, the mother came, stayed for a few hours and then left the place scared that somebody might ask her to take Bharath back home,” a staff member tells us. “It took her four years to come again. This time, she couldn’t identify him without my help.” The home is also planning to start a new branch for girls at Madurantakam.
(If you come across an abandoned child, call 23820771)