A sheltered life
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Until he reached the age of 18, Santosh Garje led a simple life in Beed helping his parents with chores in on their farm. When he was 19, his elder sister died due to an illness and Garje suffered an irrecoverable emotional shock. A few months later, he received another blow when his father left home and did not return. All this left Garje emotionally wrecked and lonely. After finding no meaning to his life anymore, he decided to dedicate his life to the less fortunate children in society and find peace and happiness by bringing joy to their lives and thus, in 2004 he established Aai Foundation.
"Me and my sister were very close. After one year of her marriage, we got a phone call informing us of her ill health. When my parents reached her home, she was dead. It was a case of domestic violence and she was pregnant. We never really got to know the exact reason of her death. This left my father upset and guilty. So, one day he just left home," recalls Garje. He adds that after weeks of suffering from severe depression, he visited the nearby villages and collected seven abandoned children.
At Beed, Garje managed to get a room on rent that he shared with the children. He also made sure the boys got proper education in the village school. "Once I ran out of ration so I went door to door asking people to pitch in. I accepted anything — grains, old clothes, books, shoes — that my children could use. Most people thought I was a fraud, because at that time I hadn't registered my NGO and didn't have any proof that I was asking for donations for the welfare of these children," recalls Garje, who registered his shelter as Aai NGO in 2007.
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