CNN Top 10 Hero NARAYANAN KRISHNAN spoke to VEENA RAO during his recent Atlanta visit. A defining moment changed his life forever, and an award gave him global recognition. “I have dedicated the award not only to my country, but to all the donors who have contributed to this cause,” he says.
Excerpts from the interview:
Making it to the Top 10
The CNN team met us twice in the past year. The first time was when we got nominated. Then, we were just one name in a sea of 10,000 nominations. The team spent a few days with us, then returned and submitted their report to the Blue Ribbon panel set up for the purpose. We made it to the top 24 mainly for three reasons. Akshaya is an organization run by the youth; the quality of food we serve; and excellent bookkeeping.
A second team from CNN came back in July and spent four days with us. The team included accountants, auditors, cameramen, editors, and had a very systematic way of working. They worked with passion, and were never exhausted. They didn’t even mind jumping into a pile of garbage to get the ideal shot. They inquired about our work in and around Madurai. After the team submitted its report to the Blue Ribbon panel, we made it to the top 10.
Voting was then opened to the public. I learned later that I had received the second most number of votes (after Anuradha Koirala of Maiti Nepal who was named CNN Hero of the Year).
Meeting the other Heroes
I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with the nine other heroes at the Marriott Hotel in LA. It was like an engineer meeting a doctor meeting a scientist. Each of us had a different experience. But all of us had one underlying spirit- to save human lives.
Dealing with Fame
I think all the 10 heroes should forget the award, which has made each of us a celebrity. Only then will our feet be planted on the ground.
I am not carried away by the limelight. Earlier, I was criticized, now I am told my work is being appreciated. Fame has not changed me. My mission and vision are very clear. I will be going back to the streets, not to a plush cabin. I will be carried away only when I see 400 people smiling in their new home.
But, having said that, I must add that the award has given me a lot of confidence. I also think this award is a knock on the head for (non-profit) organizations that do not work responsibly to be more transparent in their functioning and to keep their hands clean.
It costs $350 a day to feed 400 people three meals a day. Also, work is in progress to build a home for these people. Four blocks are ready, but we need around $300,000 to complete work on four more blocks. When the home is ready, the Madurai roads will be free of the mentally ill, women who are violated, and the old and uncared for. These people will be rehabilitated in the home. They will be active- making spices and pickles, marketing them, cleaning the home, gardening, helping in the kitchen. Once rehabilitated, many can be reunited with their families.
I’d like people to contribute on birthdays, wedding anniversaries, on special occasions. Please visit our websites www.akshayatrust.org or akshayausa.org to find out how you can support our cause.
How did the people we feed end up on the roads?
Several of the people we feed are mentally ill, because of which they lose their identity. Others are dropped on the roads by pilgrims. It is interesting to note that as many as 80% of these destitute are from north India. Perhaps, 80% of the homeless in the north are from the south. That is because people travel a considerable distance from home to discard an old parent or family member. That way, they are not answerable to society.
Akshaya Trust is now registered in the US as Akshaya USA (www.akshayausa.org). What started as a one-man show in 2002 is now a movement. I want people to join hands with us and make this movement a larger, stronger one. Once our Akshaya home project is complete, I hope to take my mission to other cities. I know there are philanthropists looking for worthwhile causes. Akshaya is a great cause to donate to.
So far, large corporations and philanthropists have not approached us. Perhaps, we do not know which doors to knock. I prefer to focus on the activity and let somebody take responsibility for raising funds.
Thankful for the online campaigns
I have just one message for all those who liberally franchised their votes, and campaigned for me on Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, and through emails and text messages exchanges Thank you very much! Indians all over the world voted, and so did people from other nationalities. I appreciate people taking time to vote, not just for me, but also for the other heroes. We have touched the hearts of millions.