On the outskirts of Ernakulam town, at Perumbavoor is the Bethlehem Abhaya Bhavan. As the name rightly suggests, Abhaya Bhavan is a home for the homeless, a refuge for the mentally ill. Started with the sole efforts of Mary Esthappan, an extraordinary housewife, Abhaya Bhavan now has over 400 residents. Mary, fondly called as Mariyamma, puts forth an example with her life.
Mary Esthappan has been walking this path of difference for the past 20 years. “It was that day after attending a week-long spiritual retreat, while I was waiting at the bus stop that a man in his eighties came to me asking for food. He looked tired and untidy. I brought him home and bought him food. That’s how Abhaya Bhavan began”, narrates Mary. The initiative which began with just five members now provide solace to more than 400 people. “What is the point of attending prayers when you are blind to the sufferings of people around?” she asks.
This journey was not an easy one for Mary. But her relentless mind and will power helped to overcome all the stumbling blocks. It was on January 5, 1998, that Abhaya Bhavan got registered as a charitable society at Koovappady. It is a shelter home for the mentally ill, who are isolated from the society. The sole aim and vision is to provide and spread love, and the expenditure is met by the donations received from well-wishers.
“People are afraid of the mentally ill. And it is this fear that leads to their isolation from the society,” says Mary. The inmates are taught yoga, dance and tailoring. Occasionally, they are taken for short trips. The only request she has to the authorities is regarding the provision of grants for better care of the residents.
Though she has had to sacrifice her personal life, she is now the cause of happiness for so many others. “Be like a candle. Don’t hesitate, along with melting yourself, you provide light to the society,” says Mary. Along with this, she requests the younger generation, to visit Abhaya Bhavan once; to study the age, experience and life of its residents. This, according to her will help them to think about their lives and how fortunate they are to have a home to go back to.
She has no complaints. “Why should I complain? Does anyone complain when they have everything? This is my pursuit of happiness. I want to live with the people here, and I want to die here.” Her dream is to expand Abhaya Bhavan, care for more people. Yes, Mary Esthappan is not just a homemaker, but also an epitome of love.