Published: 06th January 2021
Florence Nightingale of Tamil Nadu: This 24-year-old nursing college teacher is getting the homeless off the streets
Manisha K, a nursing college lecturer from Erode, has rehabilitated over 160 homeless into various homes across Tamil Nadu
What would you usually do when you see a beggar on the street? You'd probably give them some alms or just shoo them away. But Manisha K would go a few steps further. "Ever since I was nine, I would go to my father's butcher shop and learn the trade. My father has always been that person who'd help others even though we had very little ourselves," says Manisha, who works as a lecturer in an Erode college. And that is probably why Manisha would not just shoo the beggar away or even give them mere alms. Manisha would instead take them under her care, interact with them and eventually rehabilitate them. And what started as a one-woman journey has now evolved into a team of hundreds and also got a name in the process — Jeevitham Foundation.
Based out of Erode, Jeevitham Foundation was started by Manisha in 2018. "I had been studying to become a nurse at JKK Nattraja College of Nursing and since then I also decided to follow my father's footsteps. I would donate food and clothing to the people living on the streets. During my nursing course, I was also exposed to life at old age homes. I really liked spending time with those people and I would go during the weekends to help them out in whatever way I could," says Manisha. "Sometimes over the weekends, I also visited the 'unknown ward' at the government hospital and volunteered. I gave them food and water and whatever else they needed and I could manage," she adds.
Pic: Manisha K
After graduating as a nurse, Manisha found a job at a leading private hospital, which she quit after a few months. "I didn't like the corporate nature of the job. I decided that I wanted to teach others instead," explains Manisha. Shortly after, she joined Nandha College of Nursing as a lecturer and has been working there since. "As nurses, we were taught about the difference between sympathy and empathy. Before studying nursing, I was sympathetic towards the people on the streets, but nursing brought out the empathetic side," Manisha says, adding, "I began thinking about how I could help them provide a secure place to live in instead of just merely providing them some food and clothing."
Soon, Manisha began asking homes and shelters whether they'd take beggars in. And she learned that she would need to cross some red tape and get permission. "As soon as I got my job, I began helping the street dwellers in whatever way I could. At Jeevitham, we refer to the process of rehabilitation as searching for one's own voice. Most of these people would not talk to you when you approach them, some would be addicted to drugs and a few others are mentally challenged," says the 24-year-old.
Pic: Manisha K
So, what is it that they do exactly? "When we discover someone on the streets, we try to build some communication with them and get them comfortable. We follow their whereabouts for a week or so and collect data about them. We ask around the area where they reside. If we find that they have been abandoned by their family or vice versa," says Manisha. She and her team also provide them with bare necessities. "After we have built a bond, we try and get to know them. We try to reunite them with families in case they are willing, otherwise, we send them to homes according to their needs," says Manisha, whose foundation has tied up with seven shelters and homes across Tamil Nadu, including an old age home in Pudukkottai, a rehab centre in Villupuram, a treatment and care facility for the mentally-challenged in Rasipuram and a home for diseased persons in Dindigul.
Manisha narrates the story of 24-year-old Ishaan (name changed), who had been addicted to drugs. "When I met him, I was shocked. The doctors had advised that his parents must take responsibility and send him to rehab immediately. I requested the doctor to grant me permission to meet his parents. I tried to make them understand how they could help him. They asked me to take care of him instead. Slowly, I got him to join me on the field and volunteer and asked his parents to not neglect him when he is at home. A few days ago, I learned that he is donating notebooks to underprivileged children in his neighbourhood. This made me very happy," narrates Manisha. And Ishaan is just one among the several Manisha has managed to rehabilitate.
Pic: Manisha K
But that is not all. Jeevitham also ensures that these people are provided with jobs. "According to their capabilities, we try to get them unskilled jobs like that of a watchman or coolie. In case they are qualified, we try to get them jobs that require skilled labour," she says. "When they agree to get rehabilitated, we help them clean up — bathing, a haircut, a shave and clean clothes. This activity is very important as it completely changes their outlook," she explains. Manisha then approaches the local police station or revenue officer to get a no-objection certificate required to rehabilitate them to various homes. Till date, Jeevitham Foundation has rescued over 160 homeless people in a period of two years.
While Manisha works primarily in Erode and nearby districts like Coimbatore, Salem, Karur, she also goes to other parts of the state if someone informs her about homeless persons there. "We had started a campaign to get a vehicle to transport the people. But that was unsuccessful. The expenses of the entire operation is borne by me and the volunteers. Some of my friends have also pitched in with some money," she says. While there are over 200 volunteers, which mostly includes students from various colleges in Erode and nearby districts, Manisha's team has 30 permanent members — and they leverage social media to get volunteers.
Pic: Manisha K
The daughter of a butcher, Manisha admits she doesn't belong to an affluent background, but helping others is her calling and way of life. Even during the lockdown, Manisha and her team went out with special permission to provide masks, sanitisers and soaps to the homeless. She even took a survey of the people who were on the streets at that time and discovered that not all of them were homeless. "On one such drive, I discovered a large group of people who were on the streets as they couldn't go back home before the lockdown was imposed. We immediately informed the authorities, who helped us relocate them to a government school," she says. A total of 84 people stayed in the school from March till June. "We put five people in each classroom and they were responsible for keeping the premises clean and preparing their own food. Every evening, the volunteers and I would educate them about COVID-19 and the importance of staying hygienic during these times," says Manisha.