Kerala woman’s humanitarian act wins applause and assistance

Kumbalangi (Kochi): Even 15 kms away from the backwater village of Kumbalangi in the outskirts of Kochi, when one asks for directions to the house of Mary Sebastian, people ask in return: “The woman who kept a Rs100 note in the charity lunch packet?”

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Such has been the sunshine spread by her humanitarian act that Mary Sebastian has become a household name not only in the neighbourhood but across the state and even outside its borders.

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The 56-year-old, who had a job with a local caterer, and her husband Sebastian V. who repairs fishing boats, both lost their jobs owing to COVID-19, but when the local panchayat requested charity lunch packets to be distributed to flood-hit villagers of nearby Chellanam, Mary too chipped in.

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Charity with a loving twist

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What distinguished that act of charity was something unique: After losing her job, Mary had got a few days of work under the government’s rural employment guarantee programme that fetches Rs290 (Dh15) per day. Dipping into her small savings from those few days of work, she took a Rs100 currency and kept it in a plastic envelope along with the meal packet.

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“I thought, whoever in Chellanam gets my lunch packet can use the money to buy some tea and sugar and help themselves. I just prayed that it reaches the most deserving person,” she told Gulf News from her modest house in Kumbalangi that can only be accessed on foot or by a two-wheeler and has no piped water.

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As it turned out, her lovingly-packed lunch packet was one of the few that ended up surplus. When one of the policemen in charge of the distribution of packets opened Mary’s packet, he was astounded to find the Rs100 note.

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Another police official shared on social media, “Found this Rs100 worth one billion,” which went viral across the state and beyond.

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Anonymous philanthropist

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For several hours no one knew who had done it, and even when the morning newspapers carried news of the anonymous philanthropist, Mary did not know – because she had recently stopped newspaper subscription to save on expenses.

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The entire village was abuzz with the news, and after the benefactor was identified, Mary was swamped by local residents, police and panchayat officials and many more. “I couldn’t believe it. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala called me, local MP Hibi Eden rang me up and chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan mentioned it during his media briefing. I never expected my small act to be so widely appreciated,” she said.

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Applause and assistance

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The local police felicitated Mary with a memento and Rs5,000 and many others have offered more assistance to the family whose compound gets flooded in heavy rains. “It costs Rs6,000 to get a water supply connection,” muses Mary, hoping that the piped water supply dream will somehow materialise.

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Such personal deprivations, of course, never deterred her from helping those even less privileged than herself.

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