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Friday, Aug 09, 2002

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Charity work takes a green hue

K.S. Vasanth

The inmates of Udhayum Karangal at Gayathri nursery.


HE is, perhaps, the first among equals when it comes to Chennai's messiahs of the downtrodden, orphans and destitutes. Tamil Nadu, and particularly Chennai, is no stranger both to Mr Vidyakar and the social welfare organisation that he is running, Udhavum Karangal (Helping Hands).

But the man who is known for his compassion for the under-privileged is making waves in a new avatar. Yes, now he is combining charity with business, though, understandably, there is more of the former in his new venture.

Udhavum Karangal, established 20 years ago, has about 1,800 inmates including mentally-ill adults, orphans, spastic and HIV-infected children. The organisation, which was operating out of a small building in Chennai's busy Arumbakkam, moved to a spacious 20-acre land at Thiruverkadu, a city suburb about 10 years ago.

The Thiruverkadu unit, which has a higher secondary school (it does not charge any fees and is open to outsiders from nearby villages) and living quarters for different categories of inmates, also has a 3.5-acre plot housing a nursery called Gayathri Nursery and Landscape.

The nursery, which was started about 5 years ago as an effort to give occupational therapy to the mentally-ill inmates, has now stepped into the commercial arena and has emerged as a name to reckon with in the city's landscaping field.

Unlike many others, Mr Vidyakar never favoured candle and incense sticks making as an occupational therapy to treat mentally-ill people. "For one, there is no creativity in it and it gets monotonous after a particular time with no scope for inter-personal relationships, which is an important factor in treatment of the illness. It also becomes crass commercialisation after sometime, which totally defeats the purpose. But gardening, I think, does wonders to their mind and morale. There is nothing like seeing a seed sprout and grow to a big tree. And, green provides the right ambience to them and gives them the much needed peace."

And, the last one year has been the most active.

"We never go to people including corporates for donation. They come to us hearing about the work we do (big time contributors include ICICI and Housing Development Finance Corporation). But Gayathri gave us an opportunity to go to them. Again, not for money, but as a provider of quality landscaping and gardening solutions. And, the response has been tremendous. Though everybody knows that we are not doing this for money, we are sometimes paid more than what we had been promised," says Mr Vidyakar.

The list of clients is growing by the day and the corporates which have evinced interest include names such as Reliance and BSNL.

And, Gayathri will not be just a flash in the pan. Udhavum Karangal, which also has a unit in Coimbatore, wants to repeat the experiment there.

"We are right now working on the Coimbatore project. A home for the mentally-ill male patients called Sakthivanam and Thanjam for female patients is being built there and our green crusade will gather momentum through this. The water scarcity in Coimbatore is delaying the project, and once the situation improves, we are confident that it will emulate Gayathri's success."

Considering the rate at which the green cover in our country is shrinking, it should be a big success, we wish.

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