At least once a month, Dr Muruga Sirigere travels with a team of physicians to villages in southwestern India where there are no medical facilities to provide treatment and free medicine.
As a general practitioner from Mysore, India, he also volunteers treating children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, as well as working with those who are hearing impaired or unable to speak.
For Dr Muruga, 33, giving back to the community, especially to help children, is not only about being a humane medical professional, it is personal. He knows first-hand what it is like to be in need and to benefit from the support of others.
Dr Muruga was born into a poor family where, after the death of his father, his mother struggled to raise him and his four siblings. At the age of five, he was brought to live at the SOS Children’s Village Bengaluru where he felt his “new life started”.
“If I had not been grown up in an SOS Children’s Village, I cannot imagine my life and where I would have ended up,” he says. “Whatever I am today, it is because of SOS Children's Villages.”
In recognition of his achievements and humanitarian work, Dr Muruga was voted as one of two winners of the 2018 Hermann Gmeiner Award. The bi-annual award honours inspiring women and men who were cared for in SOS Children's Villages and who have gone on to become role models in their communities. This year's winners were chosen from eight finalists selected from 71 nominees from 30 countries.
Growing up, Dr Muruga took advantage of every opportunity. He was smart and studious, and also had the strong support of role models, such as his SOS mother MC Girijamma, whom he credits with helping shape his life.
“I found happiness and warmth in the lap of my mother and found so many brothers and sisters to play and grow up with,” Dr Muruga says. “I was given everything I ever wanted.
“Thanks to the love, care, support and encouragement I received from my SOS family and the organisation, I had the courage and strength to not only chase my dreams but also achieve them. I feel so proud and humbled at the same time. I can say with conviction that every child can dare to dream big in an SOS Children’s Village.”
And dream big is what the young Muruga did.
He studied hard, and at the age of 17 had the chance to go abroad and study at Pearson College UWC in Canada. There he got one of his first formal experiences volunteering, working with people living with HIV and AIDS.
During high school in India, he also visited various hospitals in Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore. “I saw so many suffering people, and that is when I decided to become a doctor to help the poor and needy,” he says.
Dr Muruga went on to be accepted at a medical school in India where it is extremely competitive to get in. SOS mother Maria Amma, who was also involved in caring for Muruga, says his educational achievements have inspired other young people in SOS Children’s Village Bengaluru and beyond. “We are proud of him,” she says.
President Siddhartha Kaul, who was involved in the building of the SOS Children’s Village in Bengaluru, commends Dr Muruga for not just wanting to focus on earning money after becoming a doctor. “It takes a special courage to look for something more than that, to be able to work with children who are deaf (and) to be able to work with families who don’t get medical care,” he says.
Giving back to society
Today, besides his medical practice and volunteer work, Dr Muruga serves as a lecturer of biochemistry at Mysore Medical College. Dr Muruga also mentors young people, especially those who have dropped out of school, encouraging them to pursue their studies and their dreams.
“Dr Muruga serves the underprivileged and the poorest of the poor with missionary zeal. He is a man devoted to others,” says Hemant Das, the current Village Director at SOS Children’s Village Bengaluru. “People look to him as a source of inspiration. He always encourages young people to reach for the stars.”
In the future, Dr Muruga hopes to expand his services and reach more people in need. He also wants to inspire young people to do the same.
“My message to my brothers and sisters at SOS Children’s Villages is to follow your heart, become a better person and always give back to society.”