A Closer Look at the Om Shanthi Home for Elderly Widows
Visitors to the Om Shanthi Home listen as founder Anna Etter confides that she'd never had an inclination to help others until the day she found a woman dying in front of Ramanashram. She didn't know what to do or how to help. Meeting the eyes of the tiny, destitute woman, Anna's heart cracked open.
After that, Anna noticed more and more women on the streets who seemed to be in desperate circumstances. She learned that widows, because they're considered bad luck, are outcasts in India.
Initially Anna just wanted to find a quiet, loving environment where these women could die in peace. When she talked with Dr. Werner of Shanthimalai Trust about her ideas in 2012, he donated a building the Trust owned where Anna could set up a hospice. Surprisingly, nobody died! With good food, medical care, and love, the widows at Om Shanthi perked right up, and the place has become a lively and joyful home!
Mr. Manoharan, president of the Shantimalai Handicraft Society, clearly loves his role at Om Shanthi as son, father, and helper. He visits the Home every day after work. He's the one on call for midnight medical emergencies, the one who transports the sick to the hospital.
Growing a kitchen garden was Mr. Manoharan's idea, too. He says it took some gentle persuasion, but now most of the women enjoy working outdoors for a little while every day. The organic garden produces enough vegetables and fruit for their needs, as well as extra to sell. The widows proudly showed us what they are growing: papayas, bananas, pumpkins, cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, beans, spinach, eggplant and chilies. When they started two years ago it was a barren piece of land. Now almost every available part of the yard has something planted on it!
Mary sings, Sagundela dances, Amsaveni - who is literate - reads the newspaper aloud while others listen. They receive visitors in the afternoon with warm smiles, hugs, and shining eyes. Their beds are all in one large room, Indian style. The women bathe everyday. There is no institutional smell, so common in nursing homes in our country. Nor does it feel like an institution. It's a closely-knit, warm-hearted community.
Every week the staff gets calls from the police, asking if more destitute elderly women found on the streets can come live at Om Shanti. Thanks to generous supporters of Aruna Partnership, a second home is now under construction. Once it's built, half the operating costs will be funded by the government. Already the widows look forward to welcoming newcomers into their circle where, instead of being shunned and isolated, a woman in need is accepted and loved.
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