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“There are institutions to look after the wealthy, taking money from them,” explains 44-year-old Sister Shubha Poovattil, who pursued her vocation against her mother’s wishes and became the congregation’s first member. “People who are poor with nobody to take care of them or sick with families that can’t afford to care for them, that’s who we accept here. Deivadan means God’s gift [in Malayalam, the local language]. So we treat everybody as God’s gift — our sisters, founding father, residents, sponsors, even you. We love and respect them, every one of them.”

Believe it or not, the women at the breakfast table are the more fortunate ones at the Deivadan Home. They still manage to get themselves to the dining hall on their own. About half of the 90 women and 65 men living at the home are bedridden or otherwise ?incapacitated by sickness or injury. Some are confined because of mental illness.

On the second floor, another novice, Anju Puthenparambil, unlocks and enters a room at the end of the hall, where three residents with severe mental illness and histories of violence live. The spartan room offers few comforts, and intentionally so. Loose objects offer too many opportunities for the residents to hurt themselves or others. Beds with thin plastic-laminated mattresses abut the walls. Iron bars crisscross the open windows. Treated with antipsychotic medications, the patients laze about in their own private altered states.

Anju’s task is simple: clean the quarters. While even those with the strongest of constitutions would proceed with great caution, if not fear, Anju is serene as she unhurriedly goes about her business. She strips the soiled bed sheets and gathers the dirty dishes. She scrubs the tile walls and cleans the porcelain toilet.

More astonishing than the fact that Anju voluntarily raised her hand to do this menial labor is that she has committed, alongside her sister Deivadans, to do it, quite possibly, every day for the rest of her life.

The source of inspiration for the members of this relatively new Syro-Malabar Catholic congregation is Father Abraham Kaippenplackal, a 96-year-old priest who has lived and worked barefoot for almost his entire life.

“I tried and found that without shoes we can live,” he explains. “It’s not so difficult. And a pair of shoes is so costly. With that I can support three or four people with food. You have to polish, repair, get new ones your whole life. That’s a chain of expenses that I can spare and spend on these people.”

Raised by a devout Christian mother who always taught him “to look to the low ground, like water going to low places, and be with the poor, love the poor and the low-caste people,” Father Kaippenplackal answered his calling to the priesthood early in life.

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Tags: Sisters Kerala Poor/Poverty Caring for the Elderly Mental health/ mental illness