New Delhi: Saista was devastated when her husband died of cancer. Her 13-year-old son, also a cancer patient, was cured, but it relapsed.
The Bihar-based woman rushed him to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. Even as his treatment was ongoing, her daughter was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Unable to cope with the sudden medical emergencies, the distressed widow tried to poison her children and commit suicide.
Five-year-old Rani suffers from bouts of seizures. She often travelled from Bihar for diagnostic procedures and now requires neuro-surgery.
Ten-year-old Muskaan’s growth is stunted. She needs a blood transfusion.
a new meaning. We verify credentials and not only take care of the child’s medical expenses but also support the families by arranging accommodation, transportation...
At AIIMS, the country’s premier hospital, such varied cases come in thousands. Many have the same problems: their families lack the finances needed for treatment.
AIIMS offers free treatment, but only to those who are Below Poverty Line (BPL) cardholders. A vast number of them come from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and face a tough time in Delhi. Often, they have no place to stay.
Standing in support
Since 2016, Rachna Malik, a housewife from a middle-class income group, has been supporting many of them. Malik runs a charitable trust, Givers For A Cause, to support children undergoing treatment at AIIMS. Additionally, the organisation handles grocery needs and other expenses of family members on a regular basis.
She began the mission after witnessing a five-year-old girl’s death on a pavement outside AIIMS.
“I was shocked to know that the child’s parents could not afford to spend Rs60 [Dh3] a day to stay at Vishram Sadan, a shelter home for patients and their families. Along with the sick child, they had lived on the roadside,” Malik told Gulf News.
“I was distraught by the fact that Rs20 [per person], for which we buy a packet of potato wafers to munch even when not hungry, can mean so much for another person. And how precious life was lost for want of a small amount,” she added.
Malik volunteered at a school for blind children and had that day accompanied a social worker to AIIMS. She returned home in tears vowing never to again visit the hospital, fearing she would become an emotional wreck. “But my elder daughter suggested I try to help out instead of running away from the issue,” Malik said.
New meaning to life
The next day, with Rs5,000 in her pocket and a couple of friends to help, Malik began her mission. “I found that people somehow manage to come to AIIMS for their child’s treatment and many do not have BPL cards. It adds to their miseries and they beg for money to even buy medicine for their children. We tried helping them.”
Soon, word spread through social media platforms and Malik launched her NGO that has volunteers joining in. She said: “It has given my life a new meaning. We verify credentials and not only take care of the child’s medical expenses but also support the families by arranging accommodation, transportation, ration and utensils like a pressure cooker.”
Over time, Malik has also become their emotional anchor. Along with volunteers, she conducts various activities, including storytelling, drawing and craft for children outside Vishram Sadan.
“The idea is to have a fun time with children with the intention of bringing colour and cheer into their lives and relieve them of stress, suffering and pain for some time. A number of them are terminally ill and we might not see them again on our next visit,” Malik said.
Unaware of the time left to live, scores of children are in a jubilant mood to see Malik approaching them with goodies — some chanting “ma” (mother). She said: “The first time we distributed drawing books and colour pencils, we were stunned that many did not know to hold a pencil. They had never stepped into a school.
“One day, I reached the location slightly late. Considering the temperatures were soaring, I did not expect the children to be there. But they were all waiting in the heat. Such incidents firmed my resolve to never let them down. With perseverance, innocence and laughter, they have taught me to value the small things in life.”
When Malik began working, she felt she could save lives. But faced the hard truth after losing some children.
“I then decided to make their last days somewhat comfortable and fill each moment with happiness by fulfilling their wishes,” she said. “Kids have small desires. From a colourful set of clothes to a bicycle, anything will make them happy. With three years of dedication and maintaining total transparency in my work system, the donors, many of whom approach me through the trust’s Facebook page, are only too happy to make contributions.”
Even though Malik finds the work satisfying, she added: “Families go back to their villages once their children get well; others leave after the child’s death. All I am left is with memories of the times spent together and feel deserted. That impacts me deeply.”