Your chance to adopt an Indian granny
By Sandie Shirley
2009: The life blood that surges through Norfolk-based Rev Canon Pat Atkinson's veins is as rich and sure as ever. Despite hardship, sacrifice and a clash with death, there are tears of joy as yet another dream comes true for the poorest of the poor in India who she lost her heart to 20 years ago.
In Mavelikara, a picturesque rural backwater 3,500 miles from Calcutta, a native volunteer has nailed a sign over the front door of a building that nears completion. It reads: "Son Behold Your Mother." The words Jesus spoke to his disciple John as he hung on the cross, mindful of leaving his mother alone without care, have issued a practical response in this part of the Third World.
A long needed Christian centre for elderly women - many abandoned grandmothers - opened this summer. It provides food, shelter and medical care - but most of all love.
The Vidiyal Trust - a charity registered both in India and the UK - is heralded as a lifeline for the women in their fifties and sixties who were close to starvation. The paddy fields that provided work all their lives were no longer viable after salt water contamination from the Tsunami disaster. With no hope and little food, they were left alone and wasting.
Said one elderly recipient: "All of our lives it has been so hard but now God has sent people to love us in the last days of our life."
The centre, which doubles as a children's home for up to 250 boys and girls, comes in the wake of the on-going generosity of Norwich Diocese church supporters who have fund raised and "adopted a granny" tens of thousands of miles away.
The new centre can provide day care for up to 25 elderly women with visiting support and meals for those who are too sick to attend. "The roof has just gone on, the tiling is being completed and the huge kitchen and dining room will supply food for adults and children," says Pat, also Chaplain at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
"It is a fulfilled dream, but it is only the sponsors who have made it possible. Without money the dream would never have happened, so they are the heroes in all this," says Pat, who has seen lives transformed through regular, monthly financial commitments.
Pat Mother - as she is affectionately termed by hundreds of Indians - has been welcomed with open arms during her 35 visits. Her vision for the elderly came during her initial call to the country's slums 19 years ago.
She learnt that 500 old and destitute women rake through the city rubbish tips for scraps to survive and saw the plight of two unforgettable women.
"One walked two miles to the local hospital with a chest infection and headache to buy one antibiotic and one painkiller. Returning home with all the medicine she could afford, she divided the tablets into four so it would last longer," says Pat.
"Saari would spend hundreds of hours looking for discarded old combs to wash and sell for less than two pence each. It did not take much for me to buy her two boxes of combs to sell but I was questioned why I had bothered by the man who had watched her hardship for years. After replying that she was old and poor and I wanted to give her love, he promised to take care of her," says Pat.
"Love is the key," says the MBE recipient who has gone to extraordinary lengths to help the frail and ailing.
"I have a love hate relationship with India. I love the people but hate the poverty," says Pat who has seen her founding Trust prosper with four additional Indian churches as trustees and complete transparency as a charity.
Pictured above is Rev Pat Atkinson with some the Indian grannies in the new home.