Lay Catholic dedicates his life to Kashmir's abandoned

Emmanuel Appan provides food, shelter and medical care as well as emotional support to residents
Lay Catholic dedicates his life to Kashmir's abandoned

Volunteer Emmanuel Appan with some of the elderly and destitute who reside at a Catholic home that cares for them in India's Jammu and Kashmir state. (Photo by Umar Shah/

Inside a two-story building within the crowded Bakshi Nagar area of Jammu city in northern India, 35-year-old Emmanuel Appan is preparing breakfast for aged and abandoned charity home residents in his care.

Wearing a T-shirt and with a rosary around his neck, the young Catholic layman hands out cups of tea.

It has been more than a year since Appan volunteered to work at the Little Teresa Home for the elderly and destitute managed by a charity called "Friends of Birds of the Air."

It functions under the Jammu-Srinagar Diocese in India's Jammu and Kashmir state, a Muslim dominated region.

Friends of Birds of the Air, began operating some 25 years ago in southern Kerala state and has since spread to most other states.

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The Little Teresa Home opened three years ago.

It provides food, shelter and medical care as well as emotional support to residents, who are mostly aged between 70-80.

Appan was born in Kerala but worked with other branches of the missioner group around India before coming to Jammu.

"I choose this life for me and I am in love with it," Appan says.

Narendra Kumar, 56, who is deaf, dumb and severely mentally deficient, was taken to the Little Teresa Home in 2015 after living rough on the streets of Jammu.

Appan, who has no formal training in dealing with such people, says he can understand what Kumar wants to convey by observing his facial expressions.

Appan washes clothes and gives men shaves as well as buying and preparing food. "God has made me a multi-tasked person," he says light-heartedly.

For Appan, an unforgettable moment was when 76-year-old Trilok Nath died after a pro-longed illness without fulfilling his wish to meet again with his estranged children.

For the last Hindu rites, Appan took the place of his eldest son to light the pyre.

"His children didn't even come to cremate their father," Appan said.

"I sometimes feel angry about this world."

Father Boby John of Jammu-Srinagar Diocese, who heads the Little Teresa Home, praised the selfless efforts of volunteers such as Appan.

Sameer Ahmad, a research scholar at Kashmir University's department of sociology, told  that in Jammu and Kashmir state there is a trend towards nuclear families away from traditional extended families.

Aged people became victims of this phenomenon in a culture that was long known for honoring the elderly, Ahmad said.

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