Fifteen years ago, Karibeeran Parameshvaran and his wife Choodamani both considered suicide after their three children died.
The three -- a son and two daughters -- were aged 5, 9 and 12 at the time. They were among the estimated 230,000 victims of a tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
On December 26, 2004, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia. The quake caused huge waves that reached not just Indonesia, but also India and 10 other countries.
More than 6,000 people were killed in India’s Nagapattinam district, where the Parameshvaran family lived.
Days after the storm, the couple walked from their town in southern India to nearby villages.
“We could see many children standing on the road, without shelter, without parents,” Choodamani told reporters with the Reuters news agency. “I thought, I lost my children, why don’t I take these children and give them shelter.”
At first, Choodamani and her husband brought four orphans home. Soon after, they turned their home into an orphanage. They called it Nambikkai. The name means “hope” in the Tamil language.
Within days, the number of orphans under their care expanded from four to 36. The couple had a newfound purpose in life.
Karibeeran, an executive engineer, and Choodamani, who works for a life insurance company, went on to care for 45 orphans at Nambikkai. They set up two buildings to house them, one for girls and one for boys. At first, the couple used their own money to pay all the costs. But their friends have also helped.
The couple has also had two more children of their own.
Many of the older children have since left Nambikkai. Some are studying at places of higher education. A few work at large companies.
Sangeetha was one of the tsunami orphans. She is now 21 years old. She has come back to work at Nambikkai after completing her studies in information technology.
She says she came back "to serve the children.”
Karibeeran, now 54, looks back on his and Choodamani’s lives with a sense of fulfillment.
He said, “This mission will continue for a lifetime, as long as the earth is moving, because we want to honor our own children.”
I’m Ashley Thompson.
The Reuters news agency reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
tsunami - n. a very high, large wave in the ocean that is usually caused by an earthquake under the sea and that can cause great destruction when it reaches land
magnitude - n. the size, extent, or importance of something
orphan - n. a child whose parents are dead
insurance - n. an agreement in which a person makes regular payments to a company and the company promises to pay money if the person is injured or dies, or to pay money equal to the value of something (such as a house or car) if it is damaged, lost, or stolen
fulfillment - n. the act of making (someone or yourself) happy by reaching or doing something that was wished for