NAGAPATTINAM, India (Reuters) - Karibeeran Parameshvaran and his wife Choodamani contemplated suicide after losing three children to giant waves triggered by a 9.1-magnitude quake fifteen years ago.
Days after their son and two daughters aged 5, 9 and 12 died, the grief-stricken couple walked from their southern Indian town to some nearby villages.
“We could see many children standing on the road, without shelter, without parents,” Choodamani told Reuters.
“I thought, I lost my children, why don’t I take these children and give them shelter.”
Initially, the couple brought four orphans home. Soon after, they converted their home into an orphanage called Nambikkai, which means “hope” in Tamil. Within days, the number expanded to 36 and the couple had a newfound purpose.
More than 6,000 people were killed in their coastal district of Nagapattinam - the hardest-hit area in India where nearly 9,000 died on the mainland and almost 42,000 people were rendered homeless.
Parameshvaran, an executive engineer, and Choodamani, a branch head at a life insurance company, have since cared for 45 orphans at Nambikkai and built two buildings - one for girls and one for boys - to house them. They started out using mainly their own funds but friends have also stepped in to help.
The couple has also had two more boys of their own.
Now, many of the older children have moved out, some pursuing higher studies. A few have joined multinational companies.
Sangeetha, 21, one of the tsunami orphans, has come back to work at the center after getting a diploma in information technology.
“I came back to Nambikkai to serve the children,” she said.
Parameshvaran, 54, looks back on his and Choodamani’s lives with a sense of fulfillment.
“This mission will continue for a lifetime, as long as the earth is moving, because we want to honor our own children,” he said.
Reporting by Sunil Kataria; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Karishma Singh and Edwina Gibbs