‘Special feeling when they call me appa’

Father figure: Ramesh posing with some of the children at the Vivekananda Home in Rembau.

Father figure: Ramesh posing with some of the children at the Vivekananda Home in Rembau.

REMBAU: He has had about 150 children addressing him as “appa” (father) over the past 12 years.

“There is a special feeling I get when these children call me appa. It’s indescribable,” said Ramesh Patel, as a group of children greeted and hugged him when they returned from school.

Twelve years ago, Ramesh founded Vivekananda Home, which currently shelters 45 orphans and children from poor or broken families.

The 58-year-old father of three considers himself blessed for having the “calling” to help provide these children with proper meals and a sound education.

Ramesh, whose family runs a small furniture business in Pedas, set up the home when he came across a woman and her two young daughters selling nasi lemak in a nearby residential area in 2006.

“When I enquired more about the family, I was told that their landlord had threatened to evict them for not paying the rent.

“I approached the woman and asked if she was fine with having to live at a ‘home’ and she agreed,” he recounted.

The “home” then was only a small wooden building located on a plot that Ramesh rented from a temple.

“I used my own money and asked help from friends to run the place,” he said, adding that his wife helped with the cooking while his own kids would tutor the children.

Within months after accepting the first resident, Ramesh said he received another case where a single mother and her seven children were evicted from their rented house.

In the early days, Ramesh said there were times he did not have enough cash for groceries but since he was a local and knew almost everyone in town, he was given a credit line.

Ramesh said many individuals and organisations have since come forward to help.

“The environment at the home is a lot more conducive today. We have a new RM700,000 two-storey building (at the same site).

“We also have a library, study room, computer and TV rooms, prayer halls and activity centres for the children,” he said, adding that taekwando and silambam (martial arts) classes are also available.

Ramesh takes the children to the Pedas Training Insititute for free Bahasa Malaysia, English and computer lessons thrice a week.

“In fact, they have also gone for educational camps organised by students at Inti and Manipal universities in Nilai,” he said.

These youngsters, he said, have also been on short holidays to Penang and Cameron Highlands.

Ramesh said it costs around RM18,000 a month to run the home which is manned by eight staff.

“We get RM7,000 from the Welfare Department and raise the rest of the funds ourselves,” he said.

That, he said, could be quite a challenge “but it is a very satisfying journey with these children whom I consider my own.”

Ramesh added that although he had to fork out his own money, he said he never had any regret “doing God’s work”.