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A father figure


One night while returning back home, Muralidhar Devdas Amte tripped on a bundle of rags which made a groaning sound. On a closer look he found that it was not rag but a terminal leprosy patient. Amte ran away in fear but the sight haunted him all the night. The next morning he went back to the man, nursed him till he died on his arms. From that day Amte decided that he would dedicate his life to the care of the disfranchised people.

It was by no means an easy decision for Amte and his wife, both of whom came from an aristocratic family. In 1951, with a nominal amount, a lame cow and six leprosy patients Amte set up a camp in Warora which was then a wild rock quarry. It took six months for Amte to dig a well in the barren land and within a year, sixty deprived people had joined him to form a community. And for the next fifty years Amte has been struggling against all odds to build up the finest example of community living at Anadwan in Maharastra.

Today, Anadwan is a haven of love and harmony. A 'forest of bliss' - it is a well-planned commune designed with pucca housing, learning centres, ponds, STD booths, medical clinics, hospitals, schools, residential quarters and cultivated fields. All the 'challenged' and the 'deprived' irrespective of caste, creed or religion are welcome at Anadwan where everyone has a role to play in the life of the community. At Anadwan, almost everything are produced by the community members.

All the members of the enterprise are encouraged to be independent and interdependent : the visually challenged teach the hearing impaired, the hearing impaired construct the houses, the spastics work in the creches, the leprosy patients cook and serve in the community kitchens, and so on the spirit of the enterprise goes taking into it's stride all of life's needs.

The entire nation of India recognises Muralidhar Devdas Amte as 'Baba Amte'. Andwan could not restrict his endeavors and in 1992 he played a significant role in the rehabilitation of the victims of communal strife in Mumbai. The next year he actively participated in the rehabilitation of the earthquake victims of Latur. For twelve long years Baba Amte has been a support to hundreds of villagers of Gujarat, Maharastra and Madhya Pradesh who have been victimised due to the construction of a dam.

Maharogi Sewa Samiti, the trust that he had set up back in the year 1949 is now left at the end of a blind lane due to immense financial crisis. But that can never deter him from his mission. Today, at eighty nine, Baba Amte feels that its not money but love and compassion that is all needed to change the world into a 'happy community'.


Radio rescue: Train disaster survivor turns hero


In the recent Kacheguda-Bangalore Express accident, one man from Bangalore who escaped unhurt in the accident was the fastest to react and start rescue operations.

In fact, 36-year old Shamshuddin Ahmed, a ham radio operator, has emerged as one of the heroes of the train accident for the amazing rescue work he undertook.

Ahmed made the first call to the outside world after the train was derailed and then wasted no time in getting the trapped passengers out of the mangled coaches.

"I got down from the train and called up my brother in Bangalore. I told him about the accident and said I didn't know where I was. I said I was safe and was going in for relief. I have been involved in relief work in Orissa and also in Bhuj," said Ahmed.

A team worker, Shamshuddin got a group of ten survivors to assist him in the rescue operation. One of them was Dr SK Pradeep Kumar.

"A lot of people of all communities joined hands and helped each other. The main person behind us was Ahmed. Besides, we had two Christian families out of which there was a lactating mother, a former nurse who despite having a four month old baby with her left the baby with me and went ahead to help," said Kumar.

A triumph of humanism during a tragedy.

(Source: www.ndtv.com)


Working-class Hero


Anger was his favourite emotion. Everything in proximity became the target of destruction. At eleven, Ramesh used to break and throw anything that was within his reach. Born to a working class family, Ramesh's mother earns for her family by a rag picking and his father is a daily-wage labourer.

Tired of the tantrums of this 'good-for-nothing' boy, his mother brought Ramesh to Utthan Talim Kendra (UTK), an organisation devoted to challenged-children in Ahmedabad. "Madam, can you do something with this mad-chap?", was the anxious query of the desperate mother; the child kept running hither and thither. 

The people at UTK noted down Ramesh's social history. And after careful diagnosis the child was found to be inflicted by Brain Damage. This was the reason behind his imbalanced and destructive tendencies that were manifested at home. On observing him at close quarters, it was found that he was 'trainable', and he needed proper guidance and counselling.

It was not an easy task. The progress was slow yet steady. Ramesh was subjected to col lective training sessions and along with counselling he was introduced skill dev elopment in mop-making and carpentry. Gradually, a sense of belonging and self-c onfidence developed in Ramesh. His temper had considerably toned down yet bouts of violence were persistent at home. His teachers became more attentive towards Ramesh and along with him his parents were provided with professional counsellin g.

By this time the teachers discovered his love for painting and sports. Extra attention had made this kid quite amicable and he loved to play the role of the errand-boy at the centre. Ramesh's painting was selected in the "Very Special Arts Competition" sponsored from Delhi and he won a wall clock as a prize. This was a breakthrough for him. With boosted self-confidence, he became more co-operative with his teachers and friendly with the fellow trainees. His personality blossomed. His conflicts with his parents lessened. But a day dawned, when in their household, a baby-brother arrived who was perfectly normal. Again his parents reverted their thinking and the elder son became 'a useless, worthless person' and kept drilling this into his mind. Once again, counselling became imperative. The parents believed that "he would never earn and contribute to the household".

Counselling continued and a hunt for a suitable job began. Eventually, Ramesh started working in a shop owned by one of the parents at the centre. His salary was Rs.500 per month. He commuted on his own. As he could not comprehend the public bus numbers, he was taught that when a bus with numbers 3 and 4 arrives, it is yours. Soon, Ramesh was found exclaiming, "my bus, my bus" when the bus numbered 34 arrived!

The UTK still maintains follow-up meetings with the family at regular intervals. Things have improved considerably yet pre-counselling situations do crop up; explanations are given - some are satisfying, some are not. But the most important factor is that Ramesh is now 'contributing member, of the family. The family has an added income. Ramesh is definitely not 'worthless' now. 

In the Indian context Ramesh's case is exemplary. This child comes from one of the lowest economic strata of the Indian society and his mother's initiative to bring him to UTK definitely deserves appreciation. Moreover, without the holistic approach taken by the teachers at UTK, Ramesh could not have painted so beautifully.

Last but not the least, Ramesh duly deserves a round of applause for what he is. One Ramesh and his parents and a single UTK have proved that when the drive is from within, even mountains can be moved.


Learn to say no


She was born to a Sindhi business family. Life was all about parties and shopping for the budding doctor Chand Bhargava, till she met a fourteen year old girl who was repeatedly raped by her own uncle. The little girl had become dumbstruck. Her silence came as a loud thud to the sheltered life of Chand Bhargava.

That was eleven years ago. Today, Chand Bhargava has more titles to add to her name. A noted philanthropist, Chand is also a teacher, a counsellor and a "listener" for the ailing women who come to her Tangra and Dhapa clinics at Kolkata. Although Chand is a paediatric by profession, half of her patients are women. She has roped in several NGOs to assist her in educating and generating awareness among these women about their rights and 'making life a little lighter' for them and their children. Amidst her busy schedule, she takes out time to provide counselling after having undergone training from Samikshani, an NGO.

In 1998, Chand met a group of like minded doctors with whom she could share her altruistic interests. Their joint effort took the shape of CHIP (Children in Pain) at Tangra, where they look after the mental, emotional and physical well-being of the deprived kids through check-ups, counselling, and various cultural activities. The noble lady is also associated with Ashaniketan, a centre for the mentally retarded.

After years of long journey fraught with hurdles, the Rotary has come forward to felicitate her. For Chand, such awards assure her that there are many to support in her mission. This doctor is all set to conduct mass awareness campaign with the aim that one day every women will 'learn to say no', against all social evils that has been hidden under the carpet of modernity and civilised life.


Everyone's invited


Little Jason was often punished for being lazy and careless. A 'stupid child' to his parents and teachers, he had also been a target of ridicule to his friends. It was only after he was diagnosed as a dyslexic, everyone realised that Jason is 'different' from other children. He was then shifted to a school which provides facilities for children like him and given a dictaphone and a laptop. Today, sixteen year old Jason Fernandes has been honoured with an international award for creating his own website which provides guidance and assistance to the children suffering from dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and other learning disorders. Jason is not alone. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has transformed innumerable lives who have been left behind for being 'differently-abled'.

Now, ICT has made possible for the 'hearing impaired' to use cell-phone through a software solution named 'LipCcell'. The application works with the aid of a PC. A cell-phone is connected to a computer which activates the software on the screen as soon as a call is received. A similar program 'You can Voice', available in seven Indian languages other than English, has not only triumphed over 'physical challenge' but has also crossed the geographical and lingual barriers to make communication a credible process for the grassroots. There's also the 3D computerised tutor that helps profoundly the 'hearing impaired children' to develop their conversation skills. "Baldi" the animated instructor converses via the latest technologies for speech recognition and generation, showing students how to understand and produce spoken language.

ICT has opened a new horizon of knowledge and knowhow for the 'visually challenged'. Software like 'JAWS, 'TLB - Talking Linux for the Blind' and 'ZOOMTEXT', the screen reading software, have made them independent in reading, writing and online communication.

Children with cerebral palsy are using computers to read, write and enjoy. Using software like 'Clicker', 'Word Q' and 'Penfriend', they do not need to type on the keyboard. Instead they use a switch to communicate with their computers. While 'Clicker', 'Word Q' are powerful writing and multimedia tools, 'Penfriend' predicts the next word the user wants to write.

ICT is not an end in itself. In a world that is fractured by conflicts, such integrating technologies bring in the hope of communication, friendship and life. This never ending journey of evolving technologies with many more Jasons shall lead us to a world where no one is ever made to remain behind in the flux of life.

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