“Service to mankind is service to God”
That is the motto with which 62-year-old Devarapalli Prakash Rao from Odisha has lived by all his life.
Not only does he provide education to slum kids, but also helps the needy with essentials at a hospital. Despite being a mere chaiwala, his wondrous efforts have led him to win the prestigious ‘Padmashri Award’ in 2019.
Rao spent his childhood in penury and was unable to attend school regularly despite being a bright student due to family commitments. His father used to run a tea stall in Cuttack, Odisha. Due to his father’s illness, he gave up on education and ran the tea stall full time. His lack of means for education was his source of motivation to help slum kids give education. His work at the hospital began with him donating blood and slowly moving to other essential services.
At 6 am, he opens his tea stall and goes on till 10 am. Then he goes to his school with a strength of 80 students. He meets the teachers and volunteers. Then moves to the hospital where he provides milk, water, and other essential services free of cost. “Mein apna kaam karta chala, log judte gaye, aur caravan banta gaya,” he says when asked about donations. Then, he reopens his tea stall in the afternoon and sells tea again till 8 pm.
Perhaps it helps that his family doesn’t depend on his income. His wife, a nurse at a government hospital, supported him in his approach and took care of the home and the education of both their daughters–the elder daughter did her Masters and the younger daughter studied Hotel Management and went to Australia.
In 2019, when he won the Padmashri Award, Devarapalli Prakash Rao was showered with close to 2500 calls in a day. From relatives, friends to the media, all wanted to congratulate him. What matters to him though is this: he has finally convinced his wife that he is not “useless” despite his house having numerous certificates and mementos. Well, that’s what he joked while accepting the award, at least.