For Dr Prakash Venjamuri, two losses he faced in 1983 turned out to be life-changing experiences.
“I lost my sister to a congenital heart anomaly and my friend to a road accident. I was 18 at the time and completely devastated. I felt like my life had lost meaning. I thought that if everyone was going to die eventually, why should we live?” Dr Prakash recalls in a conversation with The Better India.
He notes that grieving the loss removed the fear of death itself. “I did not give any importance to or value life. My friends used to say, ‘If you want to die, ride pillion with Prakash’,” he says.
“But over the years I learned, and decided to live a meaningful life, based on the fundamental aspects proposed by Maslow — food, clothing, shelter, and knowledge,” he adds.
This very principle has now formed the basis of Dr Prakash’s work. For many years now, he has opened his doors for people across all strata of society who can cook, eat, rest, and seek clothing at his home.
An act of kindness without pomp and show
Between 1986 and 1999, Dr Prakash pursued his MBBS and a Master’s degree in health administration. Later, he ventured into social work, working with different NGOs for nine years. But he did not feel satisfied with what he was doing, he says.
“The NGOs always had vested interests. Some wanted money to raise infrastructure, while others traded their positions with senior government officials. I also realised that only the privileged donated for the non-profits to seek tax benefits or compulsion of CSR,” the 56-year-old says.
Dr Prakash continues, “Some NGOs run under the name of religious idols or famous personalities. I felt uncomfortable with such practices around me,” he says.
He adds these practices defeat the purpose of NGOs. “An NGO should intervene where the government and other private players fall short. But these NGOs implemented government policies or worked alongside,” he explains.
In 1999, Dr Prakash quit his job and launched an NGO in his two-storey house — Life – Health Reinforcement Group (Life-HRG). “I wanted to demonstrate that social service can be offered without using religious cards or corporate money,” he says.
Using his savings and wife’s financial support, Dr Prakash offered relief to the victims of the Odisha cyclone and provided medical relief during the Gujarat riots. On other occasions, he addressed women’s healthcare by flagging the issue of unethical unindicated hysterectomies. He also became a member of the Child Welfare Committee.
In 2006, Dr Prakash formed Andari Illu, which translates to ‘open house’. “My wife Kameshwari and I decided to open the service for the needy. We saw that society is losing connection, and humans are becoming insensitive towards others. We aimed to display an act of kindness by offering help with fundamental needs,” he notes.
“Anyone can visit between 5.30 am until 1 pm. Be it a person new to the city, a student, or an underprivileged who needs food, clothing or shelter, anyone can avail the facilities for free,” he says.
Dr Prakash has a shared kitchen space where people can cook and eat with the available groceries. “Rice, oil, cooking equipment and other items are made available throughout the day,” he says.
There is also a room that hosts hundreds of books. “We have a sitting area inside and outside the house. People can rest and feel comfortable. The place does not permit night stay due to limitations from the police department,” he says, adding, “However, the place is open 365 days a year.”
Dr Prakash claims at least 1 lakh individuals have benefitted from the house.
Rajulingam Goud, a cybercrime constable with the Telangana police, says, “I accessed the facility for two years in 2006 and 2007 while pursuing my bachelor’s degree in education. I lived in a hostel in the vicinity, and it had no mess facility. Incidentally, one of my friends informed me about Andari Illu, and we benefited from it.”
Dr Prakash says that some people provide furniture, while others with food. “I do not call them donations, as we do not seek charity. But I feel I have succeeded in showing that social service can be done without any fanfare or branding with a famous name or religious symbol while benefiting thousands of people,” he says.
Edited by Divya Sethu