Photographs: Manu A B
Meet a postman who has been extending a healing hand to cancer victims and families who have lost their only earning member to cancer.
In our series on Extraordinary Indians, Manu A B meets S Babu in Thiruvananthapuram.
Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. This postman has walked that extra mile every day to save people's lives, even as he delivered letters in his neighbourhood.
A saviour for many cancer patients, S Babu works at the Kowdiar post office in Thiruvananthapuram. His goodwill and sincere efforts have saved the lives of countless patients in Kerala's capital city.
For the last four years, the 56-year-old postman has been extending a healing hand to cancer victims and some families who have lost their only earning member to cancer.
"People have great regard for him. It is great to see how he leverages the opportunity of meeting people while on the job for a noble cause," says Sobha Koshy, chief postmaster general, Kerala circle.
"With their support, he reaches out to poor cancer patients. It is a unique gesture where a person makes his work more meaningful and, at the same time, helps humanity at large. His goal is to give back to society," adds Koshy.
Besides donating funds and arranging meals for poor cancer patients, Babu has actively taken part in organising a free cancer diagnosis camp in Thiruvanathapuram.
"It is shocking to see how poverty forces many patients to skip meals during cancer treatment. Though the government offers a 20 per cent discount in treatment expenses to BPL (Below the Poverty Line) citizens at the Regional Cancer Centre, many can't afford the treatment or eat food during treatment. It is heartbreaking to see their plight," says Babu.
How Babu's sister became his inspiration
Photographs: Manu A B
A tragedy led Babu to work for cancer patients. His sister Florence, who worked as a nurse in a maternity hospital, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
During his visits to the hospital to meet her, he saw the trauma of other cancer patients, how they suffered without money to buy food or medicines.
"It was depressing to see my sister lose the fight to the dreaded disease. Her loss is irreparable, but she is my inspiration to do everything possible for critically ill patients who cannot afford medical treatment," says Babu.
Babu's parents had read about Florence Nightingale and wanted one of their daughters to be like her. Babu's sister was a caring person who lived up to her name and her parents' expectations. She used to set aside 30 per cent of her salary for charity, besides helping people get medicines and food whenever she could.
Even when she was undergoing treatment, Florence continued to help poor people who could not afford treatment.
Florence died within a year of being diagnosed with cancer; she was just 45.
'Rich people hardly think of helping the poor'
As a postman, Babu has a rigorous daily routine. He has about 1,000 houses on his 'beat' (area of work). He visits atleast 500 houses every day.
On the performance chart in the post office, Babu has a 100 per cent score.
He says he finds the job a blessing as it gives him the opportunity to interact with people and encounter some good Samaritans.
"Besides being a good worker, Babu is a socially committed person. He has a good rapport with his customers and they consider him an esteemed member of their family," says Koshy.
Babu discovered there were many more people keen to help, so the Santhawnam Charitable Society was formed. This trust has 124 members, who are actively involved in supporting critically ill patients.
He came across several senior government officials like M S Mathews, former additional secretary of the housing board (who is now the president of the Society) and John Koyilparambil, former chief conservator of forests, who were keen to lend their support to his cause.
The Society has offered financial aid worth Rs 1 million since 2007 to poor cancer patients. It gives a donation of Rs 25,000 every quarter to the Regional Cancer Centre at Thiruvananthapuram.
The donations the Society receives are voluntary.
Every month, Babu keeps aside a part of his salary for charity work. The staff at the post office in Kowdiar offer him a sum of money every month.
"We need more generous people. Rich people hardly think of helping the poor. However, you need not be rich to help. Even Rs 100 from each person can make such a big difference," says Babu.
"People's active participation can help millions of people in need. You just need to have a helping mentality," he points out.
The Santhawnam Charitable Society gets many applications seeking help, but the lack of funds stops it from reaching out to all critically ill patients. The Society has currently only Rs 30,000 in its bank account.
'The fight for survival becomes more painful when they have no money'
Photographs: Manu A B
Besides donating funds and food to the needy, the Society has started an annual cancer awareness camp where people get a free check up conducted by doctors from the Regional Cancer Centre.
"Prevention is better than cure," says Babu. "We want to make sure that people get saved before it gets too late. Early diagnosis can save lives so we plan to conduct such camps every year."
>He feels there are more cancer patients than ever before in Kerala. The change in lifestyle, food habits and poor exercise have resulted in an increase in the number of cancer cases, he says.
"We badly need funds to support not just the patients, but also the families who have no support system after a family member dies. Today, we see patients from two years to 80 years battling this deadly disease," says Babu.
"The fight for survival becomes more painful when they have no money."
For Babu, saving the life of 45-year-old Prabhakaran has been the most unforgettable incident in his life.
"Doctors had given up on him. To make matters worse, he did not have enough money for treatment. The Society managed to arrange the funds he needed. Prabhakaran's life was saved and he leads a normal life now," says Babu.
There was another instance where the Society helped a young paralysed boy to travel to Vellore for treatment. The boy can walk now.
"These miracles change lives forever," says Babu. "Our work becomes meaningful when we see people get a new life."
'We never stop trying'
Photographs: Manu A B
Many people feel they cannot do much. But every small gesture helps someone in need, Babu says.
He feels the younger generation is not doing enough to support such noble causes. "Today, youngsters are well qualified, they earn good salaries, but they hardly spend time for social causes," Babu adds.
"Our trust has only elderly and retired people. I am the youngest member," he points out.
Babu came from a poor family, so he knows the pangs of hunger. He understands the problems of the poor.
"During our childhood, we worked in the fields and our only thought was how we could sustain ourselves. I did not have high hopes. Luckily, I got a job and today we lead a decent life. I feel good that I have brought positive changes in the lives of other people too."
Babu's crusade does not stop here. As president of the Aruvikkara Residents Association, he works for the welfare of residents in his hom town.
Babu and his friends recently won a court battle against a contractor who did a shoddy job repairing roads in his area. The contractor was pulled up and asked to redo the roads.
"I don't know if this will actually happen," says Babu. "But we never stop trying in our own way."
The Aruvikkara Residents Association gives rice to 200 poor families every month. It also gives free uniforms and books to 100 children every year.
Babu wants to continue working for the needy. He hopes more people will come forward to help him in this initiative.
If you wish to help Babu, please call him on 095394- 80503.
You can help cancer patients by donating funds to the Santhawnam Charitable Society, Account No: 30239419993, State Bank of India, Jawahar Nagar Branch, Kowdiar.
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