The Good Samaritan
Professor Sakhi John is an unusual academician. Faculty member of the School of Management and Business Studies, Jamia Hamdard (Hamdard University), Delhi, he is more famous for his work among the vulnerable and the underprivileged, including those living in slums.
And this, the 49-year old Professor, who originally hails from Kerala, has been doing for the last 30 years.
He is also an active member of Deepalaya, an NGO based in the national capital, working towards making underprivileged children self-reliant to build better futures for themselves.
Deepalaya is registred as a Society based on legitimate rights, equity, justice, honesty, social sensitivity and a culture of service in which all are self-reliant. Its focus and sole reason for existence is the child, especially the girl child, street child and disabled child.
Believing that the family of the child is the medium through which the development takes place, for Deepalaya the organisation and sensitisation of the community is the approach through which empowerment, capacity building and social transformation.
Accordingly, Deepalaya, identifies and works along the economically and socially deprived, the physically and mentally challenged – starting with children, so that they become educated, skilled and aware. It enables them to be self-reliant and enjoy a healthy, dignified and sustainable quality of life.
“I have been working closely with the slum-dwellers in Delhi. The satisfaction, when you see that your efforts have equipped someone towards self-reliance, so that they can survive on their own and look after their families, is amazing. You can never grow tired of such a feeling,” says John, who works under the department of healthcare and pharmaceutical management.
“As part of the NGO too, there are around 10 youngsters who want to follow my path,” he says.
Belonging to Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district, John moved to Delhi for higher studies in 1993. Ever since, he has been pursuing the aim of uplifting the deprived, be it through awareness drives among the uneducated on HIV and AIDS, rehabilitation of sex workers, lending his voice for the rights of the transgender community, or providing education and medical help for street children.
Children of the streets, among the worst-hit by the Covid pandemic, have been a special focus for him of late. Deepalaya, which runs many schools, has launched several programmes to provide food and books to children, he says, adding, “our aim is to enrol street children in government schools, where they would be able to receive medical aid and a mid-day meal. Out of the 300 children we identified, we were able to put 45 in government schools in Delhi, which is a great achievement.”
A meaningful change in the lives of those in the lower strata of society cannot be achieved in days or months, he stresses. “It takes years, sometimes decades, of effort. When the pandemic hit the means of livelihood of sex workers on the streets, we inspired at least some to make masks and find a means of livelihood.
“This has shown them another side of life, which they were completely unaware of. By making them self-reliant, they are being empowered to lead meaningful and satisfying lives. All such efforts should start with the children,” he says.
John has been involved in social activities, especially those on the field, from the time he was in Class VIII.
In 2017, he had saved the life of a Thrissur native by donating his kidney. And this had done with two conditions. “First, the recipient would be from the economically weaker section. Second, the donation would not be publicised,” he says.
“In 2011, after my father’s eyes were donated after his death, I met the ophthalmologist who had conducted the transplants on two recipients. He told me how they could see the world again because of my father. That was when I thought of donating my organs,” points out John.
Another reason, he says, was his political leanings that led him to social work. “I moved to Delhi in 1992, was actively involved in Left-wing politics and started working with railway colony workers. Later, I got associated with the local NGO for slum kids. After I started teaching, I specialised in health management. This was the turning point. I travelled to villages in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and worked with AIDS patients. I continue to do this,” he says.