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“Some of these families live in remote and far out places. They live by themselves in jungles. Access is difficult. But we find a way,” Father Elambasseril says.

R. Vasudevan lies on the floor of a small room. He lives in a small hut in the Dalit village of Ittakaveli. The tropical humidity is at its peak this late October afternoon. Mosquitoes buzz around.

Vasudevan was 21 when he fell off his motorbike. People around him thought he was drunk; no one called for help. Because of the delay in medical attention, his paralysis from the waist down became permanent.

“I’ve been bedridden for the last 27 years now,” the 48-year-old says. “But I am mentally strong and have been able to survive this.” Despite his suffering, he radiates good cheer.

His mother, Devaki, 76, is his full-time caregiver. “I have three daughters,” she says. “They visit occasionally and help bathe him.”

Both Devaki and Vasudevan look forward to their weekly visit from the Mother Teresa care team. “The priest prays. The volunteers and the nurse make conversation. I have visitors,” Vasudevan says, smiling.

Today, Sister Savari changes his catheter.

“If he goes to the hospital for a catheter change,” Sister Savari says, “it will cost him 300 rupees [a little over $4].

“We come here and do it for free.”

Nearly an hour and a half later, the mobile ambulance is ready to leave. The voice of Father Joseph praying fills the air.

“It gives me so much comfort knowing that someone is praying for me,” Vasudevan says.

Father Elambasseril says some of the more marginalized communities, such as the Dalits and Adivasis, face significant challenges.

“It’s a cycle of poverty and debt that’s almost impossible to break,” he says.

“On top of that, alcohol is a big problem in these communities. They brew their own liquor from palm trees,” he says. “Alcohol poisoning and liver failure are the primary causes of death.”

Most of the men and women in the indigenous and Dalit communities are day laborers. The area in and around Kanyakumari is known for its rubber estates, and much of the available work centers around tapping rubber trees.

“Let’s say they earn 500 rupees a day; they often spend 600 on drinking,” Father Elambasseril says. “They have no bank accounts and no savings either.”

Some individuals, however, do own a bit of land.

“But they live in hilly areas where there are wild animals,” the priest says. “That means there’s no cultivation; any farming they do is destroyed by wild animals, such as elephants and wild boars.”

The village of Kulasekharam is home to Selva Raj and his family. He used to load trucks. One day while on the job, a needle punctured his leg. He did not realize what had happened. Two days later, he woke up in the middle of the night amid severe pain and bleeding.

“I had no idea what was happening. We went to the hospital the next day,” he says.

The doctors advised a leg amputation. Selva refused. “They did another procedure, but the wound has needed dressing every day for the last year and a half,” he says.

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