Published: 21st April 2020
Battling COVID-19: This 26-year-old prof from Erode is providing shelter, food to the needy amid the lockdown
Founded in 2014, Atchayam Trust has been working in and around Tamil Nadu to provide relief and rehabilitation to beggars
While the Centre and state governments have announced several relief measures amid the Coronavirus lockdown imposed across the country, the poor and destitute are the ones mostly excluded from the welfare schemes. With no ration cards or documents to show, they are unable to access the food supplies provided by the government. Numerous workers are also without jobs, haven't received their wages and thus haven't been able to pay their rent leading them to reside on roads without proper shelter and food to eat. As the fear of starvation affecting them before COVID-19 does increases, people like P Naveenkumar and his non-profit Atchayam Trust are the ones garnering hope in these difficult times. They are working relentlessly in the Erode district of Tamil Nadu to provide shelter, clothes, food and water to the needy.
Founded in 2014, Atchayam Trust has been working in and around Tamil Nadu to provide relief and rehabilitation to beggars. "Our motto is to create a beggar free India. We have been working for rehabilitation and until now 4,800 beggars have received counselling, medical treatment, food, and other necessities. We have also created a database, which helped us to reunite some of them with their families, and rehabilitate in old age homes or shelter homes," reveals Naveen. Until now Atchayam Trust has brought back 480 people to their normal lives.
Naveen, who works as a full-time professor at the JKKN College of Engineering and Technology, Komarapalayam, had begun the relief measures for the needy amid the Coronavirus outbreak since section 144 had been imposed in the districts of TN even before the national lockdown began. Since then the 26-year-old and his team have been providing 500 packets of food and water to the needy in Erode. "The homeless don't only include beggars but also migrant workers, daily wage workers, mentally-ill, who were forced to take the streets as there is no means of livelihood left for them and they also couldn't go back home to their families due to unavailability of transport. We began giving them food and also creating a database of these to help them further. We approached the corporation commissioner and the district collector, who helped us acquire a government primary school that is being used to house about 80 of these homeless people. We provide four meals daily starting from breakfast to lunch, evening snacks and dinner. Eggs are served every day along with fruits like banana. We are also providing them with bath soaps, washing soaps, clothes, plates, tumblers, sanitisers, masks with the support of local people," explains Naveen. Atchayam Trust is being supported by the Vellalar College, Erode (Olirum Erode Foundation), Erode chapter of Young Indians, Rotary Club, and various individuals in procuring food materials and also cooking the food for this relief initiative.
The 26-year-old and his team are also encouraging people to cook inside the campus. "We have given the responsibility to them, one person is working as the watchman, some are in-charge of cooking additional food if they want, they have a cleaning in charge, and someone in charge of maintenance. We want to engage them in whatever they can do already," he adds.
Atchayam has also been organising evening meditation sessions, yoga training sessions in the evening for these people at the school. "A doctor visits the premises daily to address addiction issues that some of them had been going through, they come and provide counselling. So many people have told me that they have recovered from alcohol addiction in this one month time as they are living, eating properly and counselling is being done. They said this is the turning point for our lives, we can lead a normal life now. What I noticed is that people live like a family here now and they seem happy," says Naveen.
They have an 11-member team dedicated to this initiative in Erode out of the total number of 400 volunteers that the trust has across Tamil Nadu. The volunteers are staying in Erode in a rented place nearby and haven't gone back home to their families as they fear that they could be carrying the virus because they have been working outdoors. Naveen says that after this is over, he has arranged jobs for some of the needy people, "And so our next step is to modify their lives and give them a means of livelihood. Once the lockdown is over, they can join jobs that have already been set up for them."
Naveen and his team have already been working in 18 districts in Tamil Nadu since the last six years for their rehabilitation measures. Naveen, who received the 2018 National Youth Award from the Ministry of Youth Affairs, Government of India, also has 40 other awards to his credit for his philanthropic work.