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Succour to battered souls

Gianna came to Chennai from Switzerland to serve the poor and needy. After 37 years of dedicated work as a nurse, she is retuning home to spend her grey years there. A profile...


"It doesn't really matter if you are black or white, and it doesn't even matter if you are rich or poor, all you need is a big heart to accept people and care for them." This was the first thing on Gianna's mind when she stepped on the Indian soil 37 years back. Although her roots are far away in Switzerland, she found that her heart belongs to India, especially Chennai.

Gianna completed her Diploma in Nursing and Mid Wifery, served in her country just for a year; before she came down to spend almost a lifetime helping the needy and poor in India.

"It was a not sudden decision. I always wanted to serve in a developing country like Latin America, Africa or in India. When my father told me about Gandhiji and his lifestyle, I chose to come to India — Vysarpadi and Erukancheri was my destination. It was a mission for which I had to prepare myself long before I landed here," she recollects.

Talking about her experiences in Chennai, Gianna utters a word or two in Tamil and interestingly, not in a foreign accent. "Afterall 37 years has taught me a lot more in life than just nursing and helping people," she smiles.

Soon after she came here, Gianna started the St. Johns dispensary, and provided medicines, wheel chairs, and tricycles to the poor. "But the more I gave and helped them, the more they seem to becomedependent, hence I realised the need to know more about them. And I found that their needs were simple. All they wanted was shelter and better education for their children. They wanted to progress in life. I started providing clothing, helped them build cement houses, make arrangements for their childrens' education and so on." Thankfully for Gianna, funds came flowing from her homeland, "People were aware of my work here, and were willing to help me."

She has worked for the welfare of leprosy patients, AIDS victims, cancer patients, destitute women and children. She also worked in Udavum Karangal. Sharing some of the most touching moments when she helped a few patients through their last days in life, she says, "Those seven years in Udavum Karangal taught me precious lessons that I would have never learnt in any nursing school in the world. Not merely material needs, these people want love and kindness. And they feet at home wherever they get it."

Now, Gianna is leaving India after spending the prime of her life, "I have seen everything in life, especially many births and deaths. Now I want time for myself. I want to sit back and reflect on what life has given me and what I have given back to the world. Before I leave, I wanted someone to takeover, so St. Johns dispensary has been transformed into a community centre." The ground floor has been converted into a library and the first floor into a hall where small functions can take place. This money would in turn help the poor.

She feels that much has changed in Chennai, "While the gap between the rich and poor is widening, the value system is also weakening. Money has taken over important values in the name of modern lifestyle. Nobody can be blamed for this and the society has to change at large. But each of us should realise the responsibility we have towards the society. If it happens, then there will be no need for social workers, or special homes." Today at 65, she is full of energy and enthusiasm. "India, particularly Chennaiites will always remain close to my heart. I may be going now, but I'll come back for sure."

PRASSANA SRINIVASAN

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