Sunday, July 14, 2013

We should all be like Kumari

Recently, a friend of Kumari said this about her: "She helps everybody and anybody. When I ran away from home and came to the street, Kumari watched over me. She made me sleep with her children on the sidewalk so that the men wouldn't bother me."
"I ask you one thing: do not tire of giving, but do not give your leftovers. Give until it hurts, until you feel the pain. If we worry too much about ourselves, we won't have time for others." --Mother Teresa 
We met Kumari in 2005 on the streets of Mysore, where she lived with her three kids. It took a year before she trusted us, but after that, she's become our most reliable and helpful street mother. She has helped us with the other mothers (keeping them in line, encouraging them to let us help their kids) and has referred other destitute kids to us. And, even though they were on the street for years, Kumari did the best she could with her kids.

Rachamma, Kumari, Prema, Sumitra, friend, Venkatesh in 2005.
When she was a little girl, Kumari also lived on the street with her mom Rachamma and her siblings. She understands the hardships and dangers of living on the street and has always told us she just does not want her kids to grow up like that. She was the first street mom to ask us to find shelter for her kids and get them off the street, and then she convinced the other street moms to let us put their kids into a residential school.

Giving Venkatesh a bath when they lived on the street, 2005.
One night in 2006, when we were on the street, Kumari asked us for money for her kids' dinner. We gave her 40 rupees, thinking that there were four of them, so 10 rupees each. She took 10 rupees and gave us back the 30 rupees, explaining "I can get rice from somebody but I just have to buy some sambar from the hotel (restaurant)."

To earn money, Kumari strings up and sold jasmine leis (malas) during the flower season, which lasts for about five months out of the year. In the off season, she cleans garlic for her friend, a street vendor, or sells vegetables.

Selling flowers, 2007. 
Selling flowers, 2007.
On another night in 2006, when one of our staff was about to walk to the children's ward at the hospital (quite a hike) where one of our other girls was admitted, Kumari had Prema, her oldest girl, to go with her so that she would not walk alone in the dark.

Peeling garlic, 2007.
Kumari with her oldest son, Venkatesh, in 2007. They are very close.
She lost an older son and her first husband a few years before we met her.
In mid-2007, we helped Kumari rent a house in a slum area where some of her friends live. She has lived there since and is very happy not to have to sleep on the street anymore.

Kumari at her house with her kids and neighborhood friends, 2007.
Kumari's second husband died in mid-2008 from tuberculosis. He was a difficult patient and preferred to drink rather than take his medication. We all tried to get him to continue his medication, but he refused and eventually died. Kumari contracted TB from him and was cured of it (she took her medication correctly), but suffered significant lung damage from the disease.

Kumari has a bulla (large air sac) in her lung and in 2012 her pulmonologist recommended a portable oxygen concentrator, which she uses at night at home when she sleeps. In early 2013, after several trips to the emergency room, the doctor also recommended a nebulizer for her because she was having problems properly using her inhaler. These life-saving treatments are helping to keep her alive, as the doctor said, the bulla is "like a time bomb, waiting to go off."

Kumari with her oxygen, 2010.

In mid-2010, when her street friend Shanti died, Kumari called us to come to the street because we had to take her friend's four children, who had nowhere else to go. Of course we did, and Suma, Manjula, Renuka, and Manu are now happy, healthy, and thriving at Karunya Mane.

Little Manu (2nd from bottom) with Mohan (bottom),
Kumari's youngest child, and their friends at Karunya Mane in 2012.
Kumari understands her health condition and she is careful. She visits her kids once a month at Karunya Mane and calls them every Sunday. Her kids are doing well and are growing up nicely. Venkatesh is at home with mom, and he helps with the household chores because she cannot exert herself physically.

Rachamma, Prema, Sumitra, Mohan, Kumari, 2012.
Kumari has just a second grade education, and her son recently taught her to write her name in Kannada. Yet, this woman with little to her name is known by everyone in her community as someone who will help others as she can, with food and temporary shelter in her small house. She's an example for all of us to follow.

If you'd like to help Kumari, her ongoing monthly expenses are as follows:
  • medication $24 (Rs. 1200)
  • rent $7 (Rs. 350)
  • electricity bill from oxygen concentrator $10 (Rs. 500)
  • monthly pocket money $16 (Rs. 800)

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