REMBAU: For the 45 orphans and children from poor families now living at the Vivekananda Home here, this year's Deepavali was made extra special when they received a visit from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali.
The children, aged between five and 17, were dressed in bright traditional outfits and had been ready several hours earlier to welcome their distinguished guests.
The Prime Minister and his wife had decided to visit the home before attending a Deepavali do hosted by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, P.Waytha Moorthy, at Dataran Rembau here on Friday (Nov 9).
The moment Dr Mahathir's entourage reached the entrance to the home, the children queued up on both sides to welcome him and Dr Siti Hasmah.
They were clearly excited by the presence of the couple and began jostling for the best position for a group picture.
Before departing, Dr Mahathir and Dr Siti Hasmah presented the children with school bags and other goodies.
In return, the children presented the couple with a Thank You card.
The home, opened in 2006, houses abused children as well as those from single parents, and is run by a team led by couple, Ramesh Patel, 58, and Indira, 56.
Ramesh earlier took the Prime Minister and his wife for a tour of the home and briefed them on the facilities there, as well as activities for the children.
"The children had been waiting impatiently for Dr Mahathir and Dr Siti Hasmah for more than a week after we were told that they had agreed to visit us.
"To them, this is probably one of the best Deepavali gifts they can ask for," he said.
Ramesh, whose family runs a small furniture business in nearby Pedas, set up the home when he came across a woman and her two young daughters selling nasi lemak in a residential area there.
He learnt that the family had no other source of income and that their landlord had threatened to evict them for not paying rent.
Around the same time, Ramesh came across another case where a single mother and her seven young children were evicted from their rented home for the same reason.
"Together with a few friends, we decided to rent a small plot of land from a temple in Rembau, and that was how it all started," he said.
With support from several individuals and organisations, the team managed to build a two-storey building at a cost of almost RM700,000 several years later. This was to ensure the children grew up in a conducive environment.
Ramesh said it costs around RM18,000 a month to run the home, which is manned by eight staff members.
The home also gets RM7,000 a month from the government's Welfare Department.