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Siji Valavanal and her two daughters visit the Deivadan Home in Thankamany, in the Idukki District, a few afternoons each week. Established four years ago, the home takes in abandoned elderly women. On those days, Mrs. Valavanal picks up her daughters, 5-year-old Anna and 12-year-old Irin, from school and takes them to the market, where they purchase sacks of rice, tapioca, vegetables and other staples. They then head over to the Deivadan Home, knock on the door and offer the groceries. But more important for Mrs. Valavanal, she and her daughters stay awhile and visit with some of the residents.

Anna, wearing a bright pink-checkered dress, and Irin, wearing a pretty green dress, approach the bedside of a reclining resident. The frail woman sits up, reaches her hands out and clutches Irin’s hands. Irin smiles. She then gently caresses Anna’s cheeks. Anna blushes. The elderly woman beams.

On any given day, visitors drop in unannounced. Some bring sacks of rice, while others offer financial support. Together, as a community, they keep afloat these homes for the abandoned elderly. Some, such as Mrs. Valavanal and her daughters, have adopted the residents as additional parents and grandparents and stop by regularly.

“We’re happy when we come here. We sit and enjoy their company, feel their pain and hear their problems,” explains Mrs. Valavanal.

“Nowadays, society is always looking at the top level, not the low levels. Most people want to make relations with those with status, not to serve those in need. I want to create in my daughters’ minds the desire to serve others,” she says, echoing the wisdom of Father Kaippenplackal’s mother. For that lesson, Mrs. Valavanal could not have found her daughters better teachers than the Deivadan Sisters.

Back in Malayatoor, as he does each morning during his stay at the Deivadan Home, Father Kaippenplackal rises before dawn to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. The sisters prepare his vestments. They lead him into the chapel and help him up to the altar, where he takes his place in the presider’s chair.

The liturgy has attracted some 35 elderly residents, who sit on a worn red rug in front of the altar. The bedridden and others unable to attend will listen to it in their rooms over the facility’s public-address system. On his right, a sister holds the reading. On his left, a novice holds the microphone. The celebrant adjusts his glasses. The liturgy begins.

His words begin to flow slowly, softly. After a few minutes, he pauses, having lost his place. The sister points to where he left off. But the pause continues for several moments. At last, he resumes reading and his voice grows stronger.

At the end of the liturgy, the sisters lead the priest to the men’s dining hall, where he takes a seat against a wall. In front of him, the bedraggled men form a single file to greet him that extends into the next room.

“This is the most pleasant time in my day,” admits Father Kaippenplackal, as he turns to greet Rajappan Paramattum, a sinewy 67-year-old Hindu and the home’s resident coffin-maker. “This is when I’m most at ease.”

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Tags: Sisters Kerala Poor/Poverty Caring for the Elderly Mental health/ mental illness