Nestled in the Kaza Village of Andrah Pradesh, India, there is a home for orphaned girls – a home that not only provides them with food and shelter, but also gives them their best shot in life. Dr. Sumathi Mukkamala, a retired pediatrician, is the mind behind Chinmaya Vijaya Orphanage and is changing the lives of hundreds of young girls. The operation is a component of CORD – Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development – a service wing of the Chinmaya Mission, which is a spiritual, social, and educational organization that operates around the world.
Dr. Mukkamala began her medical studies in India, finished her pediatric residency at Hurley Hospital, and then worked at Hurley for 20 years. She has been in the U.S. since 1970. In 2006, she fulfilled her childhood dream of opening Chinmaya Vijaya. It began in a small building with three girls taken in by her and her husband, Dr. AppaRao Mukkamala, and has grown into a successful, well-operated facility for young girls.
“In India, we have this big discrimination between girls and boys,” says Dr. Mukkamala. A current issue in India is that there are usually no opportunities for education for girls; girls are used for child labor, prostitution, or are victims of infanticide as soon as they are born. Dr. Mukkamala’s awareness of this inequality, paired with her love for children, became a catalyst that would direct her future. “I love children because they give us unconditional love,” she says.
“The only demand of life is the privilege to love all.”
Dr. Mukkamala studied in India in her regional language until she went to the English medium school and medical college to begin her studies. “Going from my regional language to studying with English was very difficult,” she says, “but I made it.”
One of her role models was her father. “He raised us with the same values, and encouraged us to go to college,” Dr. Mukkamala says. Her guru of 25 years, Chinmayananda, is her second role model. He stressed “karma yoga,” which Dr. Mukkamala defines as, “selfless work without expectations.” Chinmayananda stressed that humans’ number one duty is to help other humans. Dr. Mukkamala explains: “He said, ‘You are born to work. To work for yourself is no problem; but also, you have to work for your neighbors, your community. It’s your duty.’ That is part of the spirituality he taught us.” This is why the Mukkamalas named the orphanage in his honor.
Mother Teresa is her third role model, having read her biographies for inspiration. “I brainwashed myself,” she says, laughing. “I want to do just a drop of what she did in her life.”
Chinmaya Vijaya is home to about 115 girls and 26 adult caretakers. Their diet is completely vegetarian-based and organic, and most of the food is grown in their garden; fruits like mangoes, pomegranates, and bananas. Although the rice and lentils are purchased elsewhere, the facility is primarily self-sufficient with food. “The girls are very healthy,” Dr. Mukkamala says.
A typical day for the children is strict with routine, and focuses heavily on education. The staff also teaches the girls how to take care of themselves, like hygiene and making a lunch, as well as getting ready for a school day. “It is amazing to watch them,” she adds.
The school is a 40-minute bus ride away, on two buses that each carries 60 children. They attend a private corporate school in the English medium. “They are the best in the school, our children,” Dr. Mukkamala says, smiling.
Dr. Mukkamala enjoys the everyday challenges when she is staying at the orphanage. “Whatever problem comes my way, I think ‘God, please help me to fix it,’” she says, adding that she feels lucky to be able to help others.
When a girl is ill, she is taken to NRI General Hospital and Medical School, where they also go for vaccinations, eye exams, dental check-ups and anything else they may need. Once a month, psychologists come to counsel the children, grouping them by age. “It is not easy, even though ours is not a big orphanage,” Dr. Mukkamala shares.
This year, Dr. Mukkamala expects 12 girls to graduate from the school and go to college. Some who earn scholarships will go to professional colleges, and others will go to vocational training. Dr. Mukkamala, the teachers and the caretakers are encouraging them to attend college and be anything they want to be. “We are trying to encourage these kids to get into colleges for whatever they want to study,” she says. “They have big dreams. Even three-year-olds will say, ‘I want to be a doctor, a teacher, an astronaut,’ you name it.”
Anybody can sponsor a child’s total care at Chinmaya Vijaya, for a year or for their entire lives. Out of the 115 children, about 60 are sponsored for life. You can sponsor, donate funds for uniforms or shoes, or any other necessity; Dr. Mukkamala will purchase everything once she is in India. “For us, everything is a help,” she says.
Dr. Mukkamala stays at the orphanage six to eight months out of the year – usually from September until April. She comments on the heat that can reach 115-120 degrees Fahrenheit in India. “The heat doesn’t bother me,” she says. “I won’t think about it. No time to think about the comfort.” While the girls are at school from 7:30am to 5pm, she goes to the hospital and does volunteer service, like patient care, sanitation, and working with the medical students. “It’s a big, full-time job,” she shares. “But … I love it! I’ve never regretted it so far. Whatever we can do that is humanly possible, we are doing it.”
Even though she considers coming to the U.S. a vacation, she still spends half of her time collecting Indian clothing, organizing and preparing for the orphanage fundraisers when she returns to India. “I am very passionate for patient care,” she says. “It makes me happy.”
On Saturday, October 17th, there was a fundraising dinner for Chinmaya Vijaya at Riverfront Center West in Downtown Flint from 6-10pm.
“The children we take in are priceless,” Dr. Mukkamala says. “I feel so lucky that I can do this for children who are in need. When I sit there with them, watching them; the joy I get … nothing else in the world compares.”