Medical representative by day, law student by night and social worker at heart, Aswathy Nair juggles many roles with one purpose: to do some good. Founder of Jwala Foundation, an NGO that provides food and shelter to the displaced and elderly, Aswathy says it was the struggle for a square meal in her childhood that was the spark that has now grown into a flame. 'When my siblings and I were younger, our mother Vijayakumari used to do multiple jobs to raise us. She used to bring the three of us a few handfuls of rice in a milk packet. That is when the importance of food registered in my mind,' she says, before insisting on talking about her work rather than focus on herself.
Still in her late twenties, Aswathy has been zipping about the city on her scooter and delivering packets of food to the economically disadvantaged for three years. After first attempting to help feed the needy at the ninth ward of the Thiruvananthapuram General Hospital and finding herself hampered by red tape, she decided to take matters into her own hands and feed the people she saw on the roads. 'About two weeks into my activities, I gave a packet of food to an old lady outside a hotel near Pazhavangadi temple. As I moved on I heard a commotion behind me and saw a homeless old man attempting to steal the food from her, while she fended him off with a stick. All this while others sat inside the hotel, and ate their fill.'
This incident prompted her to take up her idea in earnest and increase the number of people she took under her wing, eventually providing assistance like purchasing medicines and working with authorities on rehabilitation of the homeless. 'There are instances when people may have property in their name but with no one to manage it they find themselves on the streets. Unmarried people whose parents have passed away and divorcees with children are also seen in such situations. However, there have been times when we have managed to help them get back into their households,' says Aswathy, who currently looks after the needs of more than 35 people.
Aswathy started out with the ambition of becoming a nurse, but went on to do her B.Com when that plan did not bear fruit. Now, she says her soft, caring side is much less forgiving. 'A lot of people have asked me why I have chosen ‘Jwala’ as a name for a charitable venture, but I feel this is right. Our generation needs to take action and make a difference, however small,' she says, adding that since she started Jwala officially in January, donations and support have been pouring in from all quarters, particularly on social media. However, Aswathy wants to keep her work in a manageable sphere of influence instead of appointing members and giving them designations. Volunteers, however, are welcome.
Aside from her work as a medical representative, she is also a third year law student at the Kerala Law Academy, where she attends evening classes. She hopes to someday use her legal knowledge in her work as well, 'I am already helped a lot by other students who study with me, and I always wonder about the legal aspects in many of the situations I face so this should help me take my work forward.'
The support she has received from home and the community near her house at Muttathara has been overwhelming, with neighbours frequently dropping in with supplies. 'My mother raised three children on her own, so she always encourages me and has never questioned what I do. In fact, on the days that I am unable to make my rounds, she hires an autorickshaw and delivers the supplies. People in my locality also support me, and some even joke that I should have a bed ready for them when they become aged.'
The numerous accolades and awards Aswathy has received have not shaken her belief that enough is not being done for the needy, a fact that is evident from her expression when she says she distributes food only once a day. She believes that the problem should be tackled at the point of origin. 'If people are not homeless or hungry in the first place, such measures will not be required. There are people who have reached a state where they cannot consume food even when it is provided. People have died on the streets in Thiruvananthapuram with no one to give them a decent funeral. That must change.' And she is making a difference by being the change herself. Contact: 9496001098
Being the change
Aswathy covers a 15 km route seven days a week, starting from Vanchiyoor, and passing through the General Hospital, Kaithamukku, Sreekanteswaram, Pazhavangadi, West Fort and Swati Nagar areas. The food is prepared by Aswathy’s mother and grandmother at Jwala’s Vanchiyoor office. The Jwala office can provide temporary accommodation for the homeless or the sick until alternate arrangements are found. Aswathy’s plans include coordinating with other social workers across the State and starting a home for the destitute where all inmates can have an inclusive lifestyle and keep themselves occupied at all times.