A life lived in the service of others

A life lived in the service of others

HELPING HAND Gurunayak DH photos

Seventy-three-year-old bachelor Venkatesh Gurunayak, who runs the orphanage, follows the saying in letter and spirit.

Apart from the orphanage, Gurunayak also runs the Datta Bala Sevashrama that rehabilitates children of parents with leprosy, all under the aegis of the Vivekananda Kushta Seva Samithi.

It was 25 years ago that Gurunayak, who has himself battled cancer, started the Vivekananda Kushta Seva Samithi. The Samithi aimed to rehabilitate the children of leprosy-stricken parents. From the last two-and-a-half decades, scores of such children have been rehabilitated and have turned responsible citizens of the country. The project continues at Ganagapur in Afzalpur taluk, a famous pilgrim centre, with a shrine dedicated to the deity of Dattatreya. It was a heart-rending incident that actually motivated Gurunayak to start the rehabilitation project. He recalls seeing a leprosy-stricken woman in labour, and every other hospital turning her down. Gurunayak finally took her to a government hospital, where she was allowed to deliver her baby.

But, his biggest concern was about the welfare of children born to parents with leprosy. What was their means of livelihood? Would they follow in the footsteps of their parents and resort to begging or would they become anti-social elements? Wasting no time, Gurunayak started the Datta Bala Sevashrama in a rented space in Ganagapur with eight children. Today, 78 children including 26 girls are being taken care of at this centre and are being provided education, boarding, lodging, recreation, etc. More importantly, they have been integrated into the mainstream of society.

A beautiful campus has been developed on a sprawling two-acre plot donated by Govind Bhatt Poojary with two separate hostel buildings for boys and girls. Equipped with modern facilities, the building has been constructed at a cost of Rs 60 lakh. Individual and institutional philanthropy have funded the entire construction.

In the last 25 years, 50 children have stepped out of the Sevashram and have been assimilated into the mainstream. At least 10 of them have been employed by the Municipal Corporation, Delhi. Some of the girls are married, while the others are employed or pursuing higher education.

Gurunayak also started Nandagokula in Gulbarga for the rehabilitation of infants  abandoned at birth. Started in 1994 in a small, rented house with two children, today it is a well-equipped three-storeyed building where 20 children are being rehabilitated. In the last 17 years,  four children have even been adopted by couples.

Children in both the institutions are taught prayer, meditation, Sanskrit shlokas, story-telling, music and dance. They also attend school with other children.

After having successfully run a couple of special schools for rescued child labourers, Gurunayak has recently started an old-age home in which senior citizens who have no one to take care of them, will be provided shelter.

Some of his plans include starting a cultural centre for ragpickers and a rehabilitation centre for children cleaning compartments in trains.

He has been working with little or no governmental support and also his projects rely on philanthropy involving industrial houses, banks, and other institutions. He has an ambitious plan of creating a corpus fund of Rs 50 lakh which to some extent will take care of many of his projects.

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