65-year-old Sumathi Amma lives in a rented house near Parambil Bazar in Kozhikode. Her 18 children, aged between 8 and 19 years, are all she has in the world.
These children were all adopted by Sumathi over the last 20 years. Some of them were abandoned by their families. Some were orphaned at birth. Others came to her after being forced to drop out of school because of troubled family situations.
In all, Sumathi adopted 27 children, of which some have got married and left home and a few have returned to their families.
Sumathi hails from one of the southern districts of Kerala, but is hesitant to name the district. “I don’t want to reopen memories, now Kozhikode is my home town. I belong here,” she says.
Before she came to Kozhikode in 1995, says Sumathi, she was partially paralysed for almost 18 years. Her family abandoned her because she was sick. She came to Kozhikode destitute, and stayed in a women’s home for some time.
“It was then that I realized my aim in life was to not live as a destitute forever. I decided to live for children who were abandoned like me. I started a home and kids started flowing in, from streets, hospitals and from families who gave them up because they couldn’t look after them. Now I have a big family,” she smiles.
Sumathi named the shelter “Nanma” and converted it to a home. 11 years ago, she and her children shifted to the rented house they currently live in.
With the children’s help, Sumathi started growing vegetables, and also bought some cows, goats and hens to help meet their expenses.
“We get some income from our farm and some people who come to visit us used to give us small donations,” she says.
While she and her children managed to get by until now, the owner of their house has now asked her to vacate. There is also a government order, she says, that welfare homes such as hers should not function on rented premises.
“I can’t sleep nowadays. I don’t know where to go. I can’t blame the house owners. They allowed us to stay here for the last 11 years, it’s our duty to vacate. But where will I go with these grown-up girls. I have to keep them safe,” she says.
Nanma now houses 10 girls and eight boys. The youngest studies in Class 3, while the eldest is doing her graduation.
“Amma will take care of all the problems. Wherever she goes we will go with her. She tells us we will get a good home,” the youngest girl in the group says.
Sumathi says that she does not want any of her children to be named in any media report. “I brought them up very well without even letting them know the feeling of being orphaned. I have taught them to live with dignity. Now we don’t have any other option to survive so we sought media help,” she says.
“I have a dream for each of them. I will give them the best education I can give till my death. I am worried about the younger ones as I don’t know how long I will live. But now we need a home,” she says.