After a 24-year long career with Unilever in UK, when Nihal Kaviratne returned home to Mumbai with wife Shyama, they were toying with the idea of doing ‘something meaningful’ in the social sector. They had an abiding interest in welfare of destitute children. Philanthropy was in their genes—their parental families had a long tradition of charitable work. Ms Kaviratne’s family ran Bal Anand, a school for destitute children; Mr Kaviratne’s family supported various catholic orphanages.
On their return to India, Shyama was keen on picking up the threads from where she left off at Bal Anand. Nihal too wanted to put his experience to good use. Over the years, he had been contributing to the various appeals in the Times of India sent out by Cancer Aid organizations on behalf of cancer patients. A chance visit by Nihal to a Cancer Aid organization in Mumbai was the “A-ha!” moment for him. Stepping out of Tata Memorial Hospital one day, he was schocked to find cancer patients sleeping on the pavement: some with tubes in their noses, others with bags and bottles attached, while yet others lay listlessly on cardboard sheets too weak to even lift their heads. It was obvious that there was an acute need for patients to have a clean place to recuperate and convalesce. Nihal saw this as an opportunity to provide recuperating patients a place to stay. He ran the idea by Shyama. After much deliberation, they thought that providing accommodation to children coming to Mumbai for treatment for Cancer would combine both their ideas: her passion for helping children and his vision of providing shelter to cancer patients. This would also give them a chance to work together. Their enthusiasm was contagious and shared by their daughter Mallika, son-in-law Stuart, and other members of their family and close friends.
The Kaviratnes decided that this was the niche they would work at filling—to provide a safe and clean living space for children to recuperate during their cancer treatment. Mr Kaviratne says, “Depressed minds and immune systems combine with a lack of hygiene to reduce survival rate.” Thus was born the St. Jude India ChildCare Centres, in February 2006. The first St. Jude Centre, at Mhaksar Hospital (Mumbai), for eight children was funded totally by the Kaviratnes.
Till date, over 200 children’s lives have literally been saved by helping them fight off Cancer and other such threatening diseases.