Ancy Johnson, a Catholic lay woman, was walking through the hot chaos of New Dehli on her way home in 2006. As usual there were homeless and destitute people picking through trash or lying on the pavement. There was one homeless man who, despite his raggedy appearance, had the clearest, most delicate gaze she had seen. She stopped and asked him if he needed help. She ended up sheltering him in her own home. Over the following months and years she continued to help other homeless men. She rented a two-room house and used it as a shelter, providing them with food, clothes and medical help. In time she formalized her mission by creating the Shanti Niketan Social Welfare Society. "There are so many abandoned people. Some covered with wounds and injuries lying in filth on the streets. I wanted to help them and give them the care they needed," Johnson told ucanews.com. "The decade-long journey has not been easy," she said, adding that the most difficult part was arranging money for medical treatment. Some of the men were seriously sick or wounded and required intensive care.
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Most of her clients had mental disabilities and were left on the streets by their families. Some of them needed their limbs amputated due to injuries sustained from accidents, while others had deep, infected wounds filled with maggots. Sharing one incident, Johnson said that a man was brought to the center missing a hand and his memory. Her helpers cleaned his wounds and took him to hospital. He later recovered and was reunited with his family in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. The word about her struggle to provide a dignified life to the destitute spread among her friends and her parish in Lado Sarai, New Delhi and people started offering to help. "People in my parish church and other friends came forward to help by contributing money or providing food after learning about my struggle," said Johnson. Her organization currently takes care of 32 destitute men, the vast majority with mental disabilities. In the course of 10 years, the organization has reunited 15 people with their families. It was difficult to find landlords willing to rent their rooms to people who couldn't find their families. In order to house them, the organization rented a former warehouse. At least they were protected and had some shelter, Johnson said. But now, with the help of fellow Catholics, she has built a permanent house for them. Syro-Malankara Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas of Gurgaon blessed the new house in Assola village on the outskirts of Delhi on Nov. 6. It can accommodate 50 people. "Nothing is impossible if people are united. It is so heartening to see that something that was started at a very small level has turned into this. It is a big achievement for us," said Johnson. The Shanti Niketan Social Welfare Society plans to build a physiotherapy unit in the home and also a department to offer training so that the men learn a skill they can use to earn a living. Rosily George, treasurer of the group, told ucanews.com that they are grateful to the dedicated donors who sponsor medical treatment and arrange food for their clients. "We do not have any government aid, nor are we taking any help from the church. It is totally a lay initiative. God has worked wonders for us," George said. Lying on their new beds in their newly built home, clients of the service were joyful. Sanju (who goes by one name), 15, said he liked the new place. "The previous place was small. This one is big and has spacious rooms," said Sanju, who was brought to the home in September with a deep head wound. Sanju, who comes from the Yamuna Nagar district of Haryana, nearly 200 kilometers northwest of New Delhi, claims that he was kidnapped and left on the streets of the capital. Unable to provide clear details of how he sustained the wound, Sanju said that people in the home were very caring and "treat me as their son. Everybody loves me here." Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas of Gurgaon blesses Shanti Niketan Social Welfare Society's new home for the homeless on Nov. 6 on the outskirts of New Dehli. (ucanews.com photo)