In the streets of India, it isn’t uncommon to encounter people begging for money, often with a story about how they landed on hard times and have mouths to feed. They are sometimes seen as people who prey on tourists and live off the goodwill of others.
However, one college lecturer, Naveen Kumar, decided not to turn away from those in need. He says it’s because six years ago, he had an experience that made him decide to help people get off the streets, find work, and return to normal life.
In 2014, when he was finishing his third year of a mechanical engineering degree, Naveen visited a temple in Erode and encountered a homeless woman.
“An elderly lady asked for some money, claiming to have been abandoned by her relatives,” the 26-year-old told The Better India in an interview. “She needed the funds to get back home.”
Instead of turning her away, he gave her all the money he had for dinner that night.
“I had water to fill my stomach and slept, thinking of the lady,” he said.
Two days later, he encountered another person in need, a man by the name of Rajsekar. Naveen was moved by his story, and he again handed over his money and slept on an empty stomach.
“My father is handicapped and my mother bedridden,” he told the publication. “So I know what it is like to be hungry, to have no money.”
But when Naveen saw Rajsekar a few days later, begging in the same spot, he realized he’d been duped.
“I approached him demanding to know about his situation and why he would not earn with dignity, instead of begging on the streets,” Naveen shared.
Rajsekar refused to answer. But Naveen, not one to be easily deterred, sought answers from the man for 22 days, despite the beggar insulting him and demanding that he leave.
Finally, something gave.
“One evening, at 11 pm, we shared tea,” Naveen said. “He opened up, saying that he was alcoholic and disappointed with his life and hence decided to follow this path.”
The young engineer realized that what people needed was not his spare change, but rather, long-term help.
However, when he brought up his idea to friends and family, they discouraged him, telling him to focus on his studies and career.
People told him, “The Indian government has not been able to solve the issue of beggars, how will you do it alone?”
But Naveen was determined.
After graduation, he took on his first project: Rajsekar, for whom Naveen was able to find a job as a residential watchman.
Next, the young student formed the Atchayam Trust for Beggar Free India, while also continuing on to his studies in thermal engineering.
Naveen says he first tried asking colleagues, family, and friends to help with funds, but they discouraged him, saying he was “begging for money like the beggars.”
After graduation, Naveen took a job as a college lecturer and has managed to sustain his efforts with his own salary and small community donations. He has also collected a team of 400 volunteers throughout 18 different districts, and his efforts have helped 572 beggars find jobs, while helping rehabilitate some 5,000 homeless persons, the news outlet reported.
He has set up a donation page where people can donate to help out. He says the average donation is 500 rupees to 1,000 rupees (US$6.78 to US$13.57), but it takes about 4,000 rupees (US$54.26) to support basic needs and medication for a single person who’s been living on the streets.
The services provided by Naveen and his volunteers include counseling by psychology and medical students. They help homeless individuals overcome shame and fear, reconnect with family, return to work, and become independent again.
They also work on rehabilitation, including helping those in need establish good hygiene routines and providing drug rehabilitation for those who need it.
In 2018, Naveen received the National Youth Award from the Indian government for his work, followed by a State Youth Award in 2019.
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