It doesn’t take a blood-tie to become a father. Sometimes, the primal instinct to protect, nurture, and care for others is all it takes to receive the same kind of revered adoration reserved for a paternal figure. Such was the case with Nellore’s Sarath Babu. His stint as a former railway clerk gave him his life’s purpose – to become a ‘father’ to over 120 underprivileged children. These ill-fated little ones had resorted to either begging for alms on the platform or skilfully picking the pockets of the everyday train-goers with an almost military finesse.
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Sarath Babu had observed the abject misery and helplessness that made these children embrace such decadence. Some of them hadn’t even hit the double digits yet. Overcome by a need to help improve their situation, even by a little, he began providing them with food. Some hadn’t eaten in days. With the long-term in mind, he approached the elders of the Gollapallem village of the Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh. Requesting them for a spare piece of land with the intent of rehabilitating these children, he managed to procure the same on a temporary basis, thus enabling him to go ahead with his plan. His first step was to build a makeshift shelter, which he did by borrowing available materials and support to create a 30 x 15 feet hut.
The second, and much harder, step was to actually carry out the process of rehabilitating these children. Since most of them were victims of a fate created by the world of adults, they harboured a distinct distrust of the entire operation. Some ruled by old habits pick-pocketed Sarath Babu himself, while the more aggressive ones once even tied the man to his sleeping cot and ran away.
But as a man who spent many years professing the faith of the legendary Sai Baba, Sarath Babu refused to be daunted by these unfortunate incidents and never lost his faith or temper with the children. Instead, his patience and dedication won them over and soon enough, they were complying with his wishes. At the same time, the village elders were noting Sarath Babu’s breakthrough with the children and the single-lined dedication with which he was pursuing his dream – to give these children the chance at a better future. The village thus donated four and a half acres of land to develop a school and living space for the children, which came to be known as the ‘CHILD ashram’.
Today, this ashram is a haven for over 120 underprivileged children, all of whom look at Sarath Babu as their ‘Daddy’. Refusing to call this shelter an orphanage, Sarath Babu prefers to view it as a developmental home for children in need and considers himself as a mere ‘enabler’. The home works itself as a school in some ways, where all the children are encouraged to reach maximum levels of self-sufficiency.
Each child is put into a group and each group has a different function in the ashram. For instance, while one takes care of cleaning, the other takes control of bringing food from the market for another group that is in charge of cooking. At the same time, there are also groups of children who are given the task of teaching other children as well. Their education is a priority for Sarath Babu and today, several of his students have reached the far ends of the academic world as doctors, scientists, and engineers.
One of the children, who, following his father’s suicide and his mother’s helpless depression took to petty thefts for survival, went on to pursue his M.Sc. in organic chemistry under Sarath Babu’s care, which he passed with distinction. Today, he is now working as a junior scientist at the National Institute of Technology, Suratkal, Mangalore. Another, who fell into the throes of bad company, has not only completed a polytechnic course in civil engineering, but is serving as a work inspector in the Panchayat Raj Department. Another, who used to beg on the railway platforms dressed in nothing but ragged underwear, today serves as a sub-inspector in the Andhra Pradesh Police Department.
Sarath Babu always encourages his children to go out into the far reaches of the world and make something good and honourable of themselves. His dream is that someday, they will help others like he helped them, and turn their lives around for the better.