IT TOOK just five hours last weekend for two Kerala villages, cutting across religious and political affiliations, to mobilise Rs 11 lakh needed for the kidney transplant of a migrant worker from Tamil Nadu.
On October 15, volunteers from Chingavanam and Pallam in Kottayam district went from door to door with buckets collecting contributions to help Kulathuparambil Jayan, a 45-year-old from Madurai, who has been ironing clothes in these two villages over the last 20 years.
The collection drive was organised by “Jayan Life Saving Samithi”, a voluntary outfit headed by the five civic body representatives from the villages. It was the culmination of a month-long effort, which included conventions and motivational sessions led by a Catholic priest to encourage people to “contribute generously for the cause”.
According to Jayan, the two villages came forward to help him out of their “love and concern”. “All the people in Chingavanam and Pallam know me as I has been pushing my mobile ironing unit from one house to another here for the last 20 years. I had feared that I would be left to die for want of money. Now, I realise how much the people of this region love me,’’ says Jayan, adding that he hopes to undergo the transplant next month.
Says Samithi convener Tino K Thomas, who is also a municipal councillor, “We covered 2,000-2,500 houses in five wards under the Kottayam municipality to raise the money. Although the required amount was Rs 10 lakh, the campaign helped us generate Rs 11.25 lakh.’’
Thomas says the contributors included middle class families, farmers and even daily workers. “The Samithi had requested daily workers to contribute a day’s wage, of around Rs 500. There are people who contributed sums ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 25,000. People were enlightened by Fr Sebastian Punnasseri, who highlighted that anyone can face an emergency health situation that requires a huge sum for treatment.”
Fr Punnasseri, who runs a community FM radio service in Changanassery, says people “irrespective of political and religious barriers came together to rescue the life of a migrant worker”. “The committee had local leaders from CPI(M), Congress and BJP. This gives a strong message that Kerala is God’s own country, where everyone is taken care of. If the cause is genuine, people would support generously,’’ he says.
“In the conventions that I addressed, I spoke about the plight of poor patients who had undergone organ transplants in the past with funds raised from the public. Since 2012, I had addressed various such fund-raising conventions in 89 local civic bodies. Over the years, such meetings have helped gather Rs 19 crore for 115 patients for organ transplants,’’ says Fr Punnasseri.
In Jayan’s case, preparations for the fund-raising started a month ago with a meeting of the five municipality representatives from Chingavanam and Pallam. As the next step, ward-level public conventions were held to “sensitise people about the campaign”. Committees were formed later in the five municipal wards in Chingavanam and Pallam, with each team assigned to cover 100 houses.
On October 14, the committee made a final appeal to the people through a mobile public address system. A day later, when squads of volunteers visited houses from 9 am to 2 pm, people were waiting with their contributions. The collection was deposited in a joint account opened by Jayan’s family and representatives of the civic body, say Samithi members.
Jayan stays in a small rented “outhouse” in Chingavanam along with his wife Mariyammal; they have two daughters who are based in Tamil Nadu’s Namakkal. “I have been a chronic kidney patient for the last seven years, but my condition deteriorated six months ago. I had been undergoing dialysis twice a week for the last three months. Then, doctors advised that a transplant was the only option left. My wife is willing to donate one of her kidneys and doctors have found that she is a matching donor,” says Jayan.
Councillor Thomas says the villagers took up the campaign “as a penance for the inhumane treatment” meted out to another migrant worker from Tamil Nadu who died in August after being allegedly denied treatment in various hospitals in Kerala.
The worker, Murugan, had met with an accident in Kollam, and rushed to five medical colleges. But he was denied admission in all of them on the grounds that a ventilator system was not available. Murugan’s death had triggered widespread outrage in Kerala, with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan apologising to the family on behalf of the state and awarding compensation. “The initial discussions on helping Jayan were held when Murugan’s tragic end was being debated in Kerala,” says Thomas.