This article is dedicated to all the kind hearts among the Mangalorean Community, with a request to spread the word around to others as well (non-mangaloreans, non-Indians, all) – charity has no boundaries. No race. No religion.
An eye-witness account of Seon Ashram provided by Agnel Pereira, our correspondent with a keen philanthropic interest. All pictures are those taken by him during his personal visit to the Ashram.
Their vessels are empty, who can fill them up?
Last year, I wrote an article in Konkani, in the brought out by Konkani artists from Kuwait, in support of the noble deeds of, and massive financial needs of, Seon Ashram. This article was also published on three of our well known community websites, including Mangalorean.com. At that time, I was urged by many to write it in English too, for the benefit of the readers of our website, Mangalorean.com. Though I was keen to do so immediately, I thought it would be better if I first visit this place and add my own personal experience. I had to wait till this July (during our recent vacation) for a visit and then I have spent enormous amount of time to put this article in its current shape and form. Considering the work done by the Ashram (you will read about it in the article), I consider my effort to be equal to peanuts.
I have tried my best to bring to you a write up to take you through it smoothly and with pictures. However, pardon me if the pictures upset you or any of my statements. The time taken by me in putting together this report will be worth it, if I can get each of my dear M.com readers to read this article fully. Not just the time spent in writing, but also using one of the only two Sundays I had at my disposal during vacation for a visit to this place! Your feedback is welcome, please write to:
Everyone is born with a mission:
Those were the starting lines of my Konkani article last year. Let me be philosophical or theological for a moment. Then I will proceed to narrate the real story of Seon.
Sometimes, when I get a rare moment to pause, I get philosophical and start wondering about the essence of life. Why human beings are born? Why are they supposedly created as ‘rational’ animals, far superior to all living things on earth? Why many are filled with positive emotions like kindness, helpfulness, love and care? What pushes people like Mother Teresa to leave her country and pick abandoned lepers from the streets of Calcutta and provide them with love and care? What makes Ms. Gladys Staines to forgive the killers of her husband and children and continue her service to the same people? What makes Angelina Jolie adopt the poorest of the poor children in deep Africa or a remotest corner of Asia? What makes Bill Gates to declare giving away everything that he has earned so far? What makes us feel pity for the underprivileged? Some mission? What mission could that be?
Then a light appears in my mind…bringing me closer to the answer. An answer to at least some of my philosophical quests. Miseries of this world! There it is. He creates miseries and then creates the affluent and puts them to test. The Divine Power, the Originator, the Creator, creates good people to tackle the negativities of the world. Difficulties exist, because saviours are sent to solve them. All the negative state of someone’s life: Poverty, Hunger, Hatred, Jealousy, War, Oppression and Disease are perfectly matched by the charitable and loving creations of this world! For a warring America, there is a peaceful Red Cross. For a terrorist Al Qaeda, there are Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). Almost one-to-one! I get the answer and conclude: "All the positive emotions of one’s life are created to negate the effect of misery of this world". "All positives ? the riches, love, care and kindness ? help people accomplish their respective mission in this world in order to provide comfort for the people affected by the negative factors".
And then I get explanations to my answers. God sent Mother Teresa because there were lepers on the streets. He filled the likes of Mr. Bill Gates, Mr. Narayana Murthy and Mr. Nandan Nilekani with all the wealth to be distributed among the least and the downtrodden. Perhaps, God sent Br. Paulose to uplift the mentally ill and physically challenged people when they cried out to the Lord for help. Surely, there is a mission for me, for you, for everyone? its only a matter of time when we start realizing it.
During my vacation recently, I happened to see an Angelina Jolie interview on BBC World. Some of her words really amazed me! When asked by the interviewer as to what motivates her to donate one-third of her earnings to charity, Angelina said (in approximately these words, may not be an exact reproduction): "what I earn, I do not fully deserve. In another way, I earn more than what I am fit for, in what I do and that perhaps would explain it" Later on I also read that she intends to move out of Hollywood, live and grow her 3 children in Africa and focus more on her charitable task. I pick this statement from a website: "She (in contradiction with Brad Pitt) hates the idea of them (her children) growing up in the insular world of Hollywood as the spoilt brats of movie stars who expect everything to be handed to them on a plate."
She had already made news by adopting two orphans, one Zohara from the war & drought prone Nigeria and another, Maddox Chivan, from politically unstable Cambodia. She was also in the news for being the ambassador for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. And then for those charitable visits to Tsunami hit countries, Katrina hit New Orleans, the war ravaged Angola and Sudan and many more. Of course, she was duly blessed with her own offspring a few months ago ? Shiloh Nouvel born to Pitt-Jolie in Namibia.
Well, reference to Hollywood through Angelina perhaps prompted me to choose the title, Misssion Impossible for this article on Seon Ashram. More than the hit Hollywood movie, it indeed reflects the unbelievable work of two lay people, purely ordinary individuals. Not even half as much gifted as you and I are. It’s indeed a mission impossible. For me at least, and you will soon believe it, though it is difficult to believe. How can 5-6 volunteers, led by a lean layman and his dedicated wife have so much ability, so much patience and always have a smile on their face, yet look after some of the worst cases of mental illness and physical abuse? Looking after men, women and children. 285 of them all!
We set out on a Sunday morning during the beautiful rainy season, eight of us (all my family members). Seon Ashram is situated in a village named Gandi Bagilu, a distance of 87 km from Mangalore (one can use NH48 up to B C Road and take the road taking you to Chikmagalur. Those coming from Mulky/Udupi via Moodbidri or Karkal, touch the Charmady Ghat road at Guruvayanakere). Its approximately 20 kms from Belthangady town.
Our first stop was at Dayalbagh Ashram, Ujire run by Capuchin Friars of Mangalore Diocese.
Dayalbagh is a place where Capuchin friars have set up a seminary for the newly joined seminarians and also conduct several social and charitable missions. They possess a beautiful farm, containing vast amount of flora and fauna, on the banks of river Nethravathi. A must visit place for every one. To be frank with you, if you happen to reach anytime at or before lunch time, the priests won’t let you go without sharing a meal with them. Sitting there with the 50 odd young boys (who have left their homes to serve God and His people) and the handful of priests, sharing a meal with them is in itself a wonderful experience. They currently run several social projects, including self-employment scheme for women, agricultural training for men, and education to 800 odd children. A walk to the banks of Nethravathi, through the lovely farm is just another lung-filling moment. Something I have done almost every year we have gone home on vacation.
My personal note: My definition of a priest is easily found in a Capuchin missionary ? somehow they keep doing all the social and religious work, but don’t end up saving funds in bank accounts. They almost live on a day-to-day account, still, they can comfortably share their meal with anyone who visits them!
From Dayalbagh to Seon…
It’s a distance of around 17 kms. First about 9 kms on the Charmadi Ghat till Kakkinje village, where one needs to take a right turn and travel another 8 kms through a village road to Gandibagilu. Since Seon is extremely well known to all and frequently visited by people, it was easy for us to reach the destination with necessary guidance from people in Kakkinje junction. Paulose had gone to Mangalore on his mission and personal work. His wife Mary took us around the premises, followed by some volunteers and some inmates including children.
It was a desire of a few years to visit Seon Ashram. First, it was my mother who revealed the news in 2002 when she had joined a team from St Vincent de Paul Society of our parish on a visit to the Ashram. She narrated a sad tale but perhaps my mind did not register what my ears heard. At that time, there were about 100 inmates. Last year, we had to return from Dayalbagh due to some unavoidable reason cutting short a possible visit to Seon ? perhaps the time hadn’t come. But after I returned back, my brother in law joined his friend Valerian Aranha (a wonderful person, lives in Dubai, who has since then done amazing things for the Ashram from Dubai ? more details on that later) went there the following week. They too narrated a similar account (need of urgent funds) as I had heard from many earlier. By this time the number of inmates had grown beyond 150.
This was followed by the request from Valerian Quadras, of Kuwait to write an article in Konkani for ‘Divo’ late last year. Amazing how God puts people with similar thoughts on Seon together. Till that unprovoked call, I had not known this man (oh, what a man he is. So busy in life, in work, but always has time for his love for Konkani, heart for charity and has a kind word for everyone). For that article on Seon, Valley Quadras provided all the pictures that he had with him, which he had gathered when he went on a visit last September. Now I have my visit before you, my own pictures for this article ? a first of its sort on Mangalorean.com (though a couple of appeals were posted by Valerian Aranha himself).
I had to make this visit, because I wanted to put before the general public the reality about this place. I had heard that there were some people (the typical arm-chair critics, who can do nothing good but spread wrongful information of good deeds for no apparent benefit, I presume) spreading rumours about the Ashram generally and Paulose in particular. There were doubting Thomases too! Someone asked me, "Is it true that they ill treat their inmates, they don’t send them back, keep them in the Ashram to derive public sympathy?" I wondered then, if the inmates are orphans and destitute found on the streets and those who don’t even know whether they exist, to whom they should be returned to?
Reality of life? Nature at a distance looks all wonderful, life at hand does not. First picture shows the unfinished walls of the Ashram building, the nature outside dazzles in green. God has been kind to us, both in terms of life and the surrounding nature. But not so for everyone! Situation on this side of the picture is grim and grave!
How the numbers have swelled!
It all started in 1998 when Paulose, saw a few mentally ill people searching for food in garbage bins at Palghat Station. He says he was completely distraught at this sight. Originally, he himself had suffered losses in his trading business, had sought God’s divine help and was returning after a retreat in Potta, Kerala. What appears to be a slightly similar Biblical scenario, God asked Paul(ose) to work for these people in need rather than worry for his losing business, and he readily agreed. He discussed the matter with his wife at that instant, who readily agreed to do something for these people. He set out immediately and started bringing these ‘mad people’ home and started taking care of them. For a moment, for the neighbours, he himself was a mentally affected person ? anyone would have thought, why mad people? He found full support and commitment from his wife Mary joining him in this noble deed. Then he set out in search of more such people on the streets.
The first home for the destitute ? Paulose & Mary?s residence. They live here even now.
In 1999, Paulose established the Seon Ashram Trust. He got recognition duly from those who mattered ? the Government Authorities, the press and the Non Government Organisations. Although funds from these authorities did not follow the recognition, such recognition and media publicity helped the Ashram to gather some support from around. Also, he found support from the Dharmadhikari of Dharmasthala Temple Trust ? Shri Veerendra Heggade who started donating food items for the inmates. And some support from some of the parishes around, through their Vincent De Paul Societies and Ladies Social Service Leagues. While Paulose went from home to home, church to church and one authority to another pleading for support, his wife Mary and a few volunteers looked after the inmates.
For those who were mentally retarded (almost about 90% of the inmates) once in a month, a doctor would come down from NIMHANS Bangalore (the renowned mental hospital), but considering the serious condition many were in, the inmates had to be taken to the hospital in Bangalore many a times. Currently, there is one full time junior doctor to look after the inmates. Paulose still dreams of that day when a mental hospital in Gandi Bagilu stands up on its own, with its own doctors and nurses to take care of the inmates.
Today, Mary is the mother of them all. The smile from her face does not vanish even when she comes across some really heart rending scenes. Women tearing their clothes, men screaming and children passing urine on bed are all common scenes. I hope I don’t need to tell readers why they do this! Then there are orphaned children, she hugs them close. Fortunately, for her, they are only orphans, not mentally ill. She pointedly tells me that these children are her future. She dreams that these children, who were found on the streets and now are school-going, would one day become Seon’s ambassadors in the society. They would themselves become doctors or nurses to take care of the destitute. I made a quiet prayer in my mind – may that happen soon.
I just kept wondering how this lady can keep a smile at all times despite the mountains to climb every moment, despite the extreme rigors the volunteers go through, and their innumerable hurdles. Life is tough, funds not available, dreams (of the hospital and ashram building) pending to materialize and they serve God through these orphaned and mentally ill children of God. I remembered Robert Schuller’s statement and his book: "Tough times never last, tough people do". I knew that the tough people were lasting here, but will their tough times go away?
In the midst of heavy rains lashing the hillside, we passed through a house with a tiled roof to another hut like structure. The house, where Paulose and Mary still live in, was initially used to shelter over 50 mentally retarded people! At that point, a shrill goes down my spine. I remember how difficult it is to look after the needs of one patient at home! And here, this couple housed over 50 mentally retarded people found on the streets in their own house!!
There was a bus outside and Mary told us that the bus is used to carry patients in emergencies and children to and from school. She mentioned that the bus was taken on a bank loan and is being repaid from the contributions from donors. We then entered a small hut nearby which is used as a makeshift kitchen (till the boiler room and kitchen get equipped in the new multipurpose Ashram building).
A small, but clean hut used as a kitchen. They served us Tea and we shared ‘work of their hands’.
We then made a visit to a small outhouse. With cows at the ground level and God (prayer room) upstairs, it wasn’t at all Gethsemane as the place was called. It perhaps reminded one of Nativity. This prayer room accommodates around 10-15 people to pray and one can see deities for all religions there. Adjacent was a multi purpose room. And there we saw a local music teacher teaching the children some classical music. I could hear a few lyrics, "Hedaradiru nanna manave, stuthisu devara?" (praise the lord, oh my soul, don’t worry).
The process right now is a bit complex to say the least, but there is no alternative.(L); The new boiler room (for boiling rice) ? still a lot of work to do for this kitchen room. Children’s school clothes are being dried here in rainy season.(R)
When the time struck 4 in the evening, being a Sunday, it was time for some fellowship for the inmates. In the same incomplete Ashram building, a decent sized hall is used for the fellowship. Many folding chairs are neatly arranged. Most of the inmates come together, leaving out only those who are completely out of their mind, who need to be kept inside the rooms for their own protection. A teacher stands by them, (one who was an inmate herself, originally suffering from mental illness and now helps and motivates the other inmates) and helps organize the evening get together. I hear the children sing the song (I carefully noted those words and I am happy I did not loose the small piece of paper during the vacation rush!) They sing (in Kannada):
Naavella Pushpagalu, parimalava beeruvevu
Naavu chendavu, namagintha chendavu, berelloo sigavu..
Nammavaru kadeganisidaroo, devaru nammannu bidalilla…
I will try to translate: We are all flowers, we spread our fragrance, we are all beautiful, one can’t find anything more beautiful than us?Though our people have left us, God did not leave us?)
It’s named ‘Gethsemane’ – it houses God on the first floor and cattle at the ground. The adjacent door is to the multipurpose room ? see the next picture where music training is being imparted.
There were also some other songs sung by adults, including a Konkani song by a young man, who narrated his story of how he was once working in Kuwait, how he was ill treated by his own family, rendering him homeless, until he found his way to Seon. He narrated as to how nicely Paulose and Mary takes care of them. He duly agreed to my words of wisdom (?!) that he should now help as a volunteer himself since he is all fine. I softly assured him that I will do whatever possible to get help from our friends.
The man who returned from Kuwait and rendered homeless by his own people and was then saved through Seon – sings a Konkani song on our request, as the children get ready for their next number.(L); Those who can walk around, are treated with some activity to relax their minds, with singing and dancing of children.(R)
As the evening fellowship came to an end, children gathered around me, especially attracted towards my digital camera. I decide to give them a moment of happiness. I called them all together and clicked my own snap with them. A self portrait (without using a tripod!) as you see below. Though some were not so sure what will come out of it, they were all happy when I showed them the picture on the screen, they started searching for themselves in the picture!
I quietly asked a few children ? do you want to come to our home? I thought may be our electronic gadgets, good dress etc could tempt them. They say firmly ? "we want our mummy, we can’t leave her". These were indeed some bright moments with some of the very least. I will surely cherish each such moment for my lifetime. These will also be the future of our country, vying for attention, vying for opportunity, vying for that elusive recognition ? with other children, of mine, of yours? Don’t we have a responsibility for them too?
Challenging times ahead:
No doubt a lot of help has come and a lot of help has been sought by Paulose by traveling widely. His repeat visits to Kuwait and Dubai have yielded reasonable support. This, he believes, was quite useful till now. Yet, more than half the Ashram building project is incomplete. 285 inmates currently have to be stuffed in a place sufficient for may be less than 100, but when the building is completed (for which significant funds are needed) the inmates will be spread out. Paulose and Mary just don’t say NO for any newcomer into their premises. Whether you need help from them, or you are there to give your helping hand.
His Kuwait and Dubai visits remind me of the two Valerians. Both of whom were instrumental in briefing me about the distress in this place during their last year’s visit to Seon. Both of them have done a lot for the Ashram. I won’t divulge too many details, because their charitable work they would not want to be publicised. But I take the liberty to give our readers just a small indication of the extent of their help ? recently, through the help of many well wishers in Dubai, Valerian Aranha spearheaded dispatching a container load of 6,000 kgs ? included therein were items of use for the inmates ? clothes, toys, tricycles, food items, TV, Fridge and a washing machine! It is just another story how Paulose struggled to clear this container at customs, and eventually, the customs officer paid the customs duty on electrical and electronic items on his behalf, hearing Paulose’s story!!
Food, clothing, shelter, medication, comfort, love, peace ? all of this is needed here. Funds currently being received are enough only to take care of food, no way sufficient for expensive medication (medicine for neurological disorders and infections is quite expensive) and to complete the building project.
Despite the funds crunch faced, no one, yes, no one, is turned back. Whoever comes, whoever is brought in, by different social welfare organizations, by people, by whoever, is welcomed by Paulose and Mary ? the two names that represent Seon Ashram Trust. They are the Saviours/Servants of Seon (oops, that’s yet another SOS I stumble upon!). As if to prove a point, the number of inmates moved from 284 to 285 in front of our eyes ? with a young man brought in!
And we met two Mangalorean Catholic old ladies, deserted inmates without psychological problems, who were shunted out of their homes by their own children!! (Mary could just smile wryly, unable to hide her distress at this attitude of children). These ladies were brought in here by the SVP of their parishes. I remembered a quote: "Expect from your son, what you did to your father" and could only leave the matter up for God’s judgement.
We then visited the office space on the ground floor in the same incomplete building. I glanced through some of their simple leaflets. One goes like this – divine sentences taken from Bible:
When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbours for they will invite you back, and in this way you will be paid for what you did. When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind; and you will be blessed, because they are not able to pay you back. God will repay you on the day the good people rise from death" (Luke 14: 12-14).
When you give to the poor, it is like lending to the Lord, and the Lord will pay you back (Proverbs 19:17)
How sensible these statements were, 2,000 years ago, still very relevant in our lives at present.
Br Paulose’s awards:
Picture taken from Seon Ashram files.
- Br. Paulose, on behalf of the Seon Ashram Trust, has received several awards from the Government and Non Government Organisations.
- He received an award for Excellent Achievement at the International Congress of NRIs on the eve of Republic Day, 25th January 2005.
- On 3rd December 2003, World Disabled Day, the then CM, S M Krishna gave the Ashram an award of Rs. 25,000 (along with a certificate and shield).
- On 15th August 2003, Br. Paulose received an award from the Governor of Karnataka
Bank account and contact details:
(Send Indian Rupee cheques favouring the following account and at the address. Please don’t send remittances directly to the bank account)
Seon Ashram Trust (a/c no. CA 15 with Syndicate Bank, Kakkinje Branch)
Gandi Bagilu Post
Dakshina Kannada 574 228
Tel/Fax: +91 8256 235228
Mobile: +91 9448011928 (Paulose)
(Please note Paulose or Mary do not speak English. One can communicate with them in Kannada, Tulu and Malayalam. One office staff can speak in English)
Also, don’t forget to send those clothes, books, toys, footwear all of which is not likely to be used by you or your family, or even if it is, you may wish to replace with new ones. These old items would still be in need at Seon. If you are about to celebrate an event at your home/family, perhaps you can remember 285 disabled inmates of Seon to be fed a normal meal from a part of that cost.
By Agnel Pereira Bahrain
Author: Agnel Pereira- Bahrain