Spare a Thought – Part II

Sanmitra Association, Borivli had organised a free medical camp, for Shri Pandurang Narayan Kore Marathi Madhyamik Vidyalaya, Urse – an ashram school near Dahanu on 1st Dec 2013. My wife Dr.Sangeeta Lotlikar, had volunteered with this trust since its earlier camps. I requested the trust members to allow me to take part in the team for this camp.

About Sanmitra Association

Students of the 1975 old SSC Batch of Gokhale Education Society, Borivali High school have formed and registered an association Namely, Sanmitra Association, Borivali, a Charitable trust formed for amongst other objectives to help the children who because of paucity of funds are unable to continue their basic education or people who are unable to continue their treatment for serious disease because of paucity of funds.

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Dr.Sangeeta, while checking one of the student

Unlike our earlier camp near Pen (Spare a Thought), this one was quiet well organized. Sanmitra association members had already contacted the school. They already had ample of information regarding the school, the number of students and their specific needs.

The Camp

The High School which we had visited, was run by a trust for poor children, free of cost.  There were around 150 boys and 25 girls, almost all the boys had come from far off places like Jawhar, Wada and VikramGad etc. The trust provides the students with free accommodation facility, food, clothing and books. But it finds it difficult to meet expenses for such a large number of children. The Head Master told us that children usually get two meals per day i.e. one in the morning at 10:00 and the other at 6:00 in the evening. But there are few days when the trust cannot even afford these two meals and the children have to sleep with their stomachs empty. Despite so many challenges the school has managed to maintain a passing percentage of 70% in 10th Std. The 2013 topper from the school was a girl with 76% in SSC. With the resources they have, achieving such kind of result is a remarkable feet.

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Dr.Mhatre, advising girls based on their examination

Sanmitra has been associated with the school for quite some time. Prior to the camp, they had provided other means to school like cupboards and tables etc. Since the school is in rural area where primary health checkup facility is scarcely available, this time Sanmitra had decided to hold a medical camp for them. The camp was to be held in the school itself. Apart from my wife, Sanmitra had requested two more physicians and an eye specialist for the camp. As part of the camp, each students weight, height, eye sight was noted and they were thoroughly checked for any medical discrepancy. It was observed that a very high percentage of the students were underweight, and many of them were suffering from basic skin diseases occurring mostly due to bad hygienic condition.

Dr.Sangeeta, while checking one of the student

Sanmitra members guiding the students for maintaining hygiene in the surrounding

The students were given tonics and other necessary medications wherever required. They were later advised how they can maintain good hygiene in their surrounding even with the minimum resources they have. Since the school had sufficient water due to a nearby stream, they were told to wash their bed sheets and cloths more frequently etc.

Well, the camp was conducted very well. It gave us immense satisfaction. In  a sense, we had contributed our bit for the betterment of our society. As for Sanmitra, They are doing a wonderful job for young children in search of knowledge. As Swami Vivekananda once said –

Next to spiritual help comes intellectual help. The gift of knowledge is a far higher gift than that of food and clothes; it is even higher than giving life to a man, because the real life of man consists of knowledge.

The Gandhian Hypocrisy

Mr. Gandhi (Jr) took so much efforts to reach the village in Uttar Pradesh, where farmers were agitating for there own land. He says, he felt ashamed to call himself an Indian, by looking at the plight of the people over there. We have farmers fighting for their land here in Jaitapur, Maharashtra too. Why can’t he come and fight for these people? Are they not human? Are they not being deprived of their livelihood? Don’t they have the right to decide whether they want to sell their land or not? Or Is it because the Congress is ruling Maharashtra?

Spare a thought!

Last month I got an opportunity to visit this village named Tarankop. It is a small hamlet, around 30 odd kilometers ahead of Panvel.  Cause – a medical /food distribution camp in the nearby adivasi padas.

Spare a thought

The kids having a nice time on a tree

Well, these adivasi padas consists of around 40-50 families each. The condition of the people over here is a shocking example of how little India has achieved even after over 60 years of independence. With a mega city like Mumbai, dreaming to be a financial hub for the region, just 100 kms away the difference cannot be more contrasting.

Education for poor

The school in the background has just one classroom and an open veranda

We had carried some some food stuff which was to be distributed amongst the villagers followed by their medical check-up. Along with this, we also provided them with basic medicines, where ever necessary.

Out of the 20 – odd small mud houses there was one small structure with a board, which read  “Pradhan mantri Sarv shiksha abhiyan”(meaning Prime Minister’s Educate All Program).
This was the primary school for the village kids. The villagers told us there was a single teacher who conducts all the classes simultaneously in one single room. The entire setup is very demotivating and hardly any child ends up completing the primary level. Even if a kid completes it, the secondary school is almost five kilometers away from the village. As we traversed more through this place, we realized how the entire area has been left way behind as far as development of infrastructure and human resource is concerned. With not even a pucca road to the village, expecting public transport would be a bit too much. Children are required to walk their way to school daily. Apart from this, the acute poverty forces the villagers to put there children to work and in case of girls, just marry them off.

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Basic medical checkup followed by medicine and tonic

Even basic necessity like food is considered a luxury over here. A small pack of Parle-G brought so much joy on their face. The only reason why the kids go to school is for the lunch which is served as part of the governments “mid-day meal” program.  A local social worker has made arrangement for water from a nearby water pipeline. Electricity is being shared from the connection to school and a small GramPanchayat office. Each home wouldn’t be having more than one or two bulbs. Most of the kids here appeared to be undernourished. The village does not have medical facility anywhere nearby.  Kids have bruise marks which take long time to heal without medication. Women have no one to approach with their medical issues and their men could not afford taking them to nearby town for regular checkups.

Most of the villagers depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihood. But unlike other farmers they do not have land of their own. For generations they have been forced to work on other people’s farm. The region is not very much blessed as far farm irrigation is concerned. Hence farming activities happen only in the monsoon period. For the other part of the year they do not have dependable source of earning. Add to this the meager wages they earn and scene appears a lot more serious.  With such a hand to mouth situation these people are hardly left with anything which they can save and utilize sometime later. They do not have access to banks. They do not know what investment is, not even postal schemes. For occasions like marriages, pregnancies or any other emergency they are forced to  take loans from local elites on very high interest rates as banks do not lend to them. Paying back such loans eats up most of their lifetime else it is passed on to their children.

Children of a lesser GOD

This is the plight of two hamlets which we happened to visit. But certainly there are thousands of such villages/hamlets in India where the situation is similar if not worse. With India having more than 50% of its population in the 15-55 years age group, most of our population is in the working age group. But with children not getting opportunities to learn and educate themselves, how can they, and in turn the entire country, gain from this Demographic dividend? On one side the country is thinking of competing with major economies like the US, China, UK etc, yet  60% of our population is still dependent on agriculture, Which again is heavily dependent on monsoon. The plight of these young children is pathetic. With lack of  appropriate opportunities, one realizes how a crucial resource is being wasted.

Countries like Japan, Italy, France etc are experiencing reduction in their population. Also they have more number of people in the non-working age group i.e. they have more number of people who are dependent on the working age group compared to countries like India, China and the US. India which will be experiencing purple patch of demographic dividend for next few decades. This gives her a unique opportunity which needs to be carefully capitalized on.

With the economy growing at a blistering pace and government initiating programs like UID, NREGA etc, some positive changes shall certainly happen. But we from our end can also do our bit. It’s not always money which stands as a constraint in development. People like these adivasis are basically just uninformed. They are not aware of many things which are available to them. Guiding them, making them aware of different employment possibilities will certainly help them. More than contributing money, spending some time on planning and executing shall go a long way. A similar case study is availaible in the article : The Real Deal  on “Economic Times” . Lets do our bit in our individual capacity. Let’s try and bring some joy on these faces.poor children