P.U. Thomas- An Ordinary Man with Extraordinary Mission
P.U. Thomas is the founder and Managing Director of Navajeevan Trust which celebrated its 23th anniversary on the 1st of May 2014. P.U. Thomas is popularly known as Thomas Chettan (Chettan – elder brother). Actually Navajeevan Thomas Chettan has become his name in Kerala as well as among Keralites in foreign countries who are familiar with Navajeevan trust through newspapers in Malayalam .Navajeevan ThomasChettan has endeared himself to thousands and thousands of people belonging to various strata of society such as high officials, doctors, office bearers of Non -Governmental agencies, teachers, paramedical staff of government hospitals, officials of local self governing bodies, and students of higher secondary schools and colleges. To much poverty ridden ailing patients in the General wards of Medical College, and District hospital at Kottayam Thomas Chettan and Navajeevan are deputed by God himself to feed the hungry. To students of schools and colleges who attended his orientation programme Thomas Chettan is a living legend. P.U. Thomas is not a priest, not a missionary, not an academician, not a sociologist, not a psychiatrist but his unique personality integrates all these dimensions and he stands above all these professionals and wins the admiration of many by his own unique life totally committed to humanitarian values and selfless services to orphans, poor patients, destitute and mentally challenged persons. Thomas Chettan through Navajeevan offers food, shelter, security and treatment to these people. Since three decades, P.U. Thomas is serving thousands of people with extraordinary vision and mission which is not confined to any particular religion or caste.
Beginnings of Mission and Vision
P.U. Thomas (Thomas Chettan) had humble beginnings in the native village of Athirampuzha in the district of Kottayam in Kerala. He was born in a SyrianChristian family as the son of PakkathukunnelUlahannan on 5 May 1949. As an ordinary village boy he had his primary education and upper primary education at St. Aloysiousschool at Athirampuzha. Hailing from a poverty ridden family, Thomas was not able to pursue his education beyond VIIth standard. He along with a friend left his village and went to Ernakulam in search of a job. For two years P.U. Thomas tried at household job. Thomas remembers that it actually strengthened his mind to face challenges. When his father brought him back he was destined by God to do extraordinary services to fellow beings. Successful accomplishment of any mission is always rooted in a strong vision. At the age of sixteen, God sent him the vision through an illness which affected his health badly. He suffered from the severe pains of ulcer. The Doctor in the district hospital at Kottayam town advised him for surgery. Four decades ago surgery was rare which instilled great anxiety and fear in the minds of patients to which P.U. Thomas was not an exception. He deemed that to be the end of his life. The tiny town of Kottayam which had the district hospital was 10 kilo meters away from his village. In those days bus services were rare. Majority travelled on foot or by bullock carts. Thomas with his father, walked all the way to the town. By around 3 O’clock in the dawn they reached the municipal Office in the town, slept there as they had to reach the hospital only at 8.30 am. The boy was admitted to the hospital but he had to spend sixteen days in the hospital for his turn of surgery. The pathetic world of sufferings, poverty, and the ill-treatment of patients by the staff awakened the spring of sympathy and compassion in his sensitive heart. After the surgery too he spent nearly a fortnight in the hospital for further examinations. To his great relief and astonishment the boy found himself to be alive. The realities of patients in the general wards instilled an earnest desire in him to serve the poor patients in hospitals. He was in search of a job.
Big Mission through small job
At the age of 20, he approached the authorities of men’s hostel of Medical College Kottayam for a job in the hostel. Pratapan Nair, a third year degree course student was the secretary of the hostel council. He allowed Thomas to work in the hostel as a mess boy. Later Dr. Prathapn Nair served as the Professor and head of the Dept of ENT in Medical College and at present he is practicing in the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences at Kochi. The boy was honest and hardworking. He was also assigned the job of tendering the garden in the hostel premises which he readily accepted. The desire to help the poor patients in the general wards of Medical College was still alive in the mind of this young man. With permission he took over the left over food of the hostel for the poor patients. Thomas remembers that he usually carried two buckets of food to the general wards and distributed food among the people who deserved it. This silent service touched the heart of a few sensitive students who occasionally gave little amounts of money to feed the poor patients. He earned only Rs. 151- per month as salary. But he spent Rs. 5/- out of it to buy medicines for the poor patients. He requested a few students to donate money for one lunch which can satisfy the hunger of a few in the hospital. He got a good response. Later he got a part time employment as apprentice in the garden at Medical College. The salary was meager. Yet he was generous in mind to spend money out of his pocket to buy medicines for the poor patients. He started the mission of feeding the poor in a better way. He approached the hotels near the medical college for food that remained excess. The canteen in Medical College co-operated with him. Thomas was now able to extend help to more patients in the general wards. At first many viewed this with contempt, but gradually his selfless service gained recognition from other attendees, nurses, and even doctors. In 1970 he got an appointment in the medical college hospital as Grade IV attender on a salary of Rs.70/- per month. Now every day he brought with him tow packets of lunch from his own home, one for himself and one for any deserving patient. The newspapers recognized his services. Gradually individuals, doctors, Para-medical staff donated him money as they were quite convinced about his vision and mission. This continued for nearly two decades. He set the unique example of a how a very ordinary person, a class IV government servant can render extraordinary services to society around him.
Besides his normal official duties, he found time to communicate with poor patients, consoled them through prayers. He collected money form philanthropists, good willed people from locality to give medicine, to arrange donation of blood to the needy. He often became the by-stander of patients who were unconscious. The doctors in almost all the departments of medical college recognized and appreciated his services. Thomas even gave money to poor patients to return to their home, gave clothing to the needy. Such selfless services were rendered by an ordinary government servant .The services had no zeal for conversion; it was not for publicity. He did not receive money from religious institutions or any foreign agencies. Thomas believes that the generosity of the people of Kottayam to feed others enabled him t o carry out the mission of feeding the poor.
Navajeevan– Origin and Development
In 1980 when P U Thomas working in the psychiatry ward of Medical College he witnessed the most wretched form of life’ on earth. He also witnessed the springs of love and compassion in Dr. Kalyani who was practicing in the psychiatry ward since 1973. This doctor often spent money out of her own pocket for the rehabilitation of poor patients who were not taken back to their home by their own kith and kin. Thomas remembers that Dr. Kalyani was a good role model. She was an angel who inspired him to think about the mentally challenged people who become destitute. He also recollects how Dr. Kumar, Department of Psychiatry rendered him great support for rendering services to these patients during treatment. In 1982 through the news in a daily he came to know about an insane person a devotee of Lord Ayyppa who along with his brother came all the way from Coimbatore as a pilgrim to Sabarimala. Unfortunately he lost the way and reached the town of Kottayam. He lost his money, memory and became an insane wanderer. Thomas brought him to the Department of Psychiatry, bathed him, dressed him and admitted him in the psychiatry ward for treatment. He was the guardian and bystander for the patient. Through treatment his condition gradually improved. Meanwhile Thomas contacted the Ayyappa SevaSangam at Kottayam. They published the photo and details of this patient in dailies in Tamil Nadu. This advertisement brought his brother to the hospital. Thomas remarks that the reunion which brought the memories of the patient to normalcy convinced him that treatment and language of love can work miracles for mentally disabled people who are normally set aside by the civilized society.
In 1988 Navajeevan Trust had its modest beginnings in a lodging room near medical college taken on lease for sheltering the mentally derailed street roamers picked from the town and the neighborhood. In this venture Thomas had the support of good hearted medical students, who vacated a room in the lodge for the service of Thomas. The first inmates were Abu, Jadayu and Aravind . Abu was a lunatic who wandered through the street of CMS college road and in the midst of the town of Kottayam. He was a funny character for the people as he always walked backwards. He was nicknamed as’reverse Abu’. When Thomas came to know about him he requested the Deputy Superintendent of police to allow him to take the patient to the psychiatry department. The police Station West Circle, Kottayam offered their services to tackle reverse Abu for admitting him to the hospital as he turned violent and resisted. Thomas and his well wishers bathed him for one hour, dressed his hair, beard, dressed him in good cloth and administered medicine. Later he was cured and he was sheltered in the room taken on lease. Jadayu and Aravind were lunatics who were rescued from the pathetic life on the streets by Thomas. They were admitted in the psychiatry ward. After proper treatment they regained the control of their minds. Jadayu and Aravind are still inmates who render valuable services as the volunteers of Navajeevan.
The fourth inmate was Manubhai a Rajstani woman. Manubhai is a special case. Nobody knows how she reached Kottayam. Thomas found her near the heap of medical college wastes. Hunger forced her to search for food amidst wastes. She could hardly recollect her own name. She was not aware that she was six months pregnant. Thomas made arrangements for food, shelter and treatment in the hospital premises. He made arrangements for her delivery. The child was entrusted with a charitable society. Once again Mnubhai escaped to the town. But Thomas who was aware of the exploitation of such women traced her with help of police and admitted her to the mental hospital at Trivandrum. After a prolonged treatment she regained her mental health and is now an inmate of Navajeevan.
Later Thomas was allowed to have all the sixteen rooms in that lodge for a rent of Rs.2000/ month for the rehabilitation of such disabled patients. This rented building was the centre of the activities of Navajeevan for many years. Forty-three inmates were offered food, shelter and treatment. A good number among them werewomen and old men. By this time more people were encouraging and participating in this humanitarian Endeavour.
Navajeevan was registered as a trust of seven members with Thomas as the Managing Trustee. At present the seven members including P.U. Thomas are C. Emmanuel, Biju, T. Paul, Mathew, Dr. Thomas, K. Joseph. Kerala. Advocate Emmanuel one of the lawyers at Kottayam assisted Thomas in drafting the deed. He also joined Navajeevan as a volunteer. Navajeevan was formally inaugurated on 15 August 1992 by Sri. OmmenChandy the then Finance Minister of Kerala.
Navajeevan trust is located at Villooni a rural region in the ArpookaraPanchayat. It is 4kms away from Medical College Kottayam. 5 acres of land was purchased by liberal donations of different categories of people. A new three storied building was constructed with the help of voluntary organizations. The building has 22 rooms apart from room for prayer, library, and recreation, storing medical aids and dining. Financial assistance from religious/government/foreign agencies is neither sought nor received through projects. Thomas fears that such help would curtail the freedom of action and efficiency in the administration of the institution. Thomas is also very particular that the institution must have a secular nature. Thomas does not want to be known as a missionary as he does not have any zeal for conversion or publicity. His services are for one and all irrespective of community, caste or religion. He does not even bother about such details and no inquiries are made. To him anyone who receives his services is just fellow beings who were brought before him through Divine intervention. The motto of the trust is noted below
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least who are
Members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mathew 25-40)