In order to inspire and make people aware of the noble cause of ‘eye-donation’, Saksham and Dadhichi Dehdaan Samiti jointly conducted a ‘Walk for Sight’ in crowded Chandani Chowk area of Delhi on August 23. Leading film actor Shatrughan Sinha, BJP MP Smriti Irani, former cricketer Chetan Chauhan also joined the walk to educate the people on the initiative. Many visually challenged persons and a large number of people also attended it. The prime objective of the walk was to make people aware of the ‘corneal blindness’ and to motivate them for eye donation.
“My family, and I have pledged to donate our eyes and I would like to do this noble act a thousand more times if possible. I salute the RSS people and the initiative to awaken people towards eye donation. The appeal will resonate in every nook and corner of the city and will inspire thousands to be a part of this mission,” said Shatrughan Sinha. He said the highest number of visually challenged people in the world are in India, and that too in the areas of Uttar Pradesh, Poorvanchal, Delhi, etc.
Smriti Irani said, “I announce to donate my eyes and I also admire the commendable hard work being done by the RSS volunteers who contacted more than one lakh fifty thousand families in Delhi to spread the awareness about eye donation.” A similar appeal was made by Shri Chetan Chauhan, former Delhi BJP chief Dr Harsh Vardhan, Saksham president Dr Dayal Singh Panwar and others.
The walk began from famous Gauri Shankar Mandir of Chandni Chowk and moved towards Vivekanada Chowk, passing through Gurudwara Sheeshganj Sahib. From August 25 to September 1 an ‘eye donation’ week will be observed and efforts will be made to reach out to more and more people possible and inspire them for donating their eyes.
And the mountains echoed
Focus Youth For Seva volunteers are back from Uttarakhand and recount stories of optimism with which victims look forward to rebuilding their lives
Twenty one volunteers, seven from Hyderabad and the rest from Bangalore and Chennai, divided themselves into four groups and visited different villages in Uttarakhand region battered by torrential rains and landslides. Everywhere they went, there were harsh reminders of destruction. Bridges had been washed away and rubble filled up what were once narrow pathways. These volunteers trekked long distances, sometimes running for their lives as they witnessed landslides and slept on damp floors in ruined homes.“We surveyed the situation in different villages to understand the long-term requirements,” says Swathi Ram, Hyderabad coordinator of Youth For Seva (YFS). They also provided relief material by distributing ‘family kits’ that included stoves, vessels and blankets (each kit is valued at Rs.14,000, purchased from fund collected towards relief work), but the larger task was to look at long-term measures. The education sector, the volunteers feel, requires immediate help. “Many village folks are eager to send their children to school, even if it means having to travel to neighbourhood towns or villages. Many schools have been washed away,” says Shobhit Mathur.
The team was delighted to learn that parents hadn’t given in to gender bias and wanted to educate their girls. “We met girls studying in high schools; we met parents wanting to see their girls self-sufficient. For that, schools have to be rebuilt in many areas,” Swathi points out. Volunteers met villagers who took the disaster in their stride, neither complaining nor blaming Nature for their predicament. “Some people wondered if Ganga wanted their fields and took it away; they wondered if they had done something to hurt Nature and this was Nature’s way of showing disapproval,” adds Swathi.The YFS team made it to Uttarakhand by chance this year. Each year, a contingent of volunteers from different cities plans a yatra. This year, they were deciding between Kanyakumari and North East. The devastating floods in Uttarakhand made them reconsider their plans. They set off to Uttarakhand on August 9 on a 10-day trip.The parent organisation, Seva International, was already in the State, and served as their field partners. In most places they visited, the volunteers were met with warmth. There was no bitterness, says Swathi. The interior villages, inaccessible by roads, faced no danger of becoming sites of disaster tourism.
There were stories of loss — of people, cattle and means of livelihood. Volunteers saw women, with children on their backs, trekking the slopes for food, water and cooking gas. “A cylinder costing Rs. 400 in the foothills is sold for Rs.1200 uphill. A kilogram of sugar is sold at Rs. 80. We felt guilty when they offered us tea; we knew what it cost them,” says Shobit.Sasidhar, who has travelled to many disaster zones including Bhuj after the earthquake in 2001, says the living conditions in Uttarakhand are by far the worst he has witnessed. “In other regions, there were roads. Here, three months after the floods, many areas remain unreachable. The region gets four to five hours of rainfall even now, which hampers relief work,” he says. For young volunteers Vikram and Rajasekhar, this trip was an opportunity to see compassionate people who came to Uttarakhand from different parts of the country. “You don’t need to be part of an organisation to reach out. We met a volunteer who had come all the way from Bangalore on his own; he had first visited a few areas to assess the damage, went back and bought relief material,” he says. “We met several such people doing voluntary work,” adds Rajasekhar.As the YFS group spoke to different stakeholders — homemakers, business people, students and women knitting woollen products to make a living — they saw an outpouring of compassion everywhere: A student had helped 200 people to safety making multiple trips on his two-wheeler; another villager carried a Hyderabadi who suffered a heart attack all the way to the foothills on his back to find medical aid. The Hyderabadi recouped and returned home safe. Shobhit, Swathi and the team are now focusing on the task at hand. “Apart from the education sector, we are thinking of ways to help with entrepreneurial skills. It is important to help people who’ve lost their means of livelihood,” says Swathi.
VANVASI VIKAS SAMITI LAKSHYA PROJECT (BHILAI)
Vanvasi Vikas Samiti (VVS) is a social organization in Chattisgarh state working for tribal development. It is affiliated to Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. VVS has started project ‘Lakshya’ a coaching and guidance center in the year 2010 for janajati students who are aspiring for Civil Services. Shri Santosh Paranjape a devoted social worker of Kalyan Ashram took the initiative. It was a humble beginning. Slowly and gradually dynamic youths associated themselves with Lakshya project. They had a dream to have own building for the project. This include conference hall, class rooms, accommodation for faculties and students along with reading room &reference library. With the help of local generous people and institutions this dream came true. On 27th July 2013 Chief Minister Shri Raman Singh inaugurated new building of Lakshya. President and Vice President of Vanvasi kalyan Ashram Shri Jagdeoram and Shri Kripa Prasad Singh were present on the auspicious occasion. Chief Minister appreciated the efforts of the organization. Jagdeoram expressed his wishes to the students and the institution. The institution ‘Sankalp’ of Delhi is helping since the inception of the project. At present, 25 students are preparing for UPSC exams. Two students successfully passed the preliminary exam this year.
NIRMAN: AN INSTRUMENT OF SOCIAL CHANGE
“Project Nirman is a unique exemplary service activity by Vanvasi Vikas Samiti. This will be an instrument of social change by youths in future.” Prof G D Sharma expressed his thoughts on the occasion of felicitation programme of Project Nirman. He conveyed his best wishes to the successful students.
Vanvasi Vikas Samiti is a social voluntary organization working in Chattisgarh state. VVS is running Project Nirman at Bilaspur which is a free coaching centre for Janjati youths. Nirman provides coaching for competitive exams for youths who come from remote educationally backward villages. This project is being run for last three years. This year students of project Nirman appeared for various exams and 55 students successfully get through the exams. Students secured jobs in the field of Banking, Railways, Police, Veterinary, Education and income tax services. Felicitation programme of successful students was organized on21 July, Sunday at Ram Mandir auditorium here. Beautiful dance on Ganesh Stuti was presented at the beginning of function. Successful students were felicitated by the chief guest Prof G D Sharma. Teachers Shri Brajendra Shukla, Shri Jayant Sarkar, Dr Ghanashyam, Dr Dhananjay Mishra and Shri Navin Relwani who provide free coaching were honoured by the chief guest. Students also offered their tribute to them on the eve of Guru Purnima.
Shri Atul Jog, Joint Organizing secretary of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram extended best wishes to the students and expressed his gratitude towards the teachers and team members of Project Nirman. On this occasion he presented brief account of activities of Vanvasi Kalayan Ashram. As a guest of honour Dr Santosh Uddeshya appreciated the efforts of Vanvasi Vikas Samiti. He assured to extend his hand of cooperation in the health care activities of Vanvasi Vikas Samiti in future. The programme was concluded by vote of thanks followed by National song Vande Mataram. Dr Rajkumar Sachadev, Shri Brajesh Shukla, Pradip Sharma, Asnamol Jha, Rajkumarji Gupta, Dr Rajbhanu, Anand Mahadik, Nilesh Chandravanshi, Subhash Gadhewal and other workers of the project worked hard to make the function grand. Students also participated in the organizing programme.
MY VISIT TO SEWA PROJECTS IN MANGALORE
- Vinay Nayak, USA
After attending shaka in the United States for the past decade, I had always wanted to see what it was like to attend shaka in India and get to know more about the Sewa projects in my native state of Karnataka. This year, from June 30th to July 3rd, I received the opportunity to visit an RSS based establishment and help out with two Sewa Bharati projects in Mangalore. On the Saturday afternoon ofJune 30th, I took a bus from the town of Udupi to the city of Mangalore to stay at an RSS base called Sanghaniketan. At Sanghaniketan, I met two local karyakartas, Pradeep ji and Sachin Bhat ji, who helped me with all of my activities in Mangalore. After settling down, I went to shaka at the Sanghaniketan hall and met many people. Interestingly, all of the activities were the same as conducted in a regular family shaka in the U.S. except for the prarthana and the method of communication (Kannada). Later on Sunday, I attended another shaka that consisted mostly of bachelors. That night after dinner, I befriended several college age students who resided at Sanghaniketan and struck conversation until after midnight.
The next day, after waking up to prayer at 5:30 in the morning, I attended another shaka at Sanghaniketan and met several important karyakartas in the Mangalore area. After shaka, I visited two schools run by Sewa Bharati: Chetana Child Development Centre and the Roman and Catherine Lobo School for the Blind. At the Chetana School, I learned more about students affected by Autism and Cerebral Palsy after discussing with several experts in the field. I also visited the Pediatric Physiotherapy unit and observed many physiotherapists helping out children with cerebral palsy. Soon afterwards, I visited the School for the Blind and met with two teachers who taught blind students in Braille. In the evening, after relaxing with friends for some time, many of the shaka karyakartas played three short rounds of cricket. After my first full day in Mangalore, I was thrilled after having an amazing day meeting many new people at the Sewa Bharati schools and making many new friends in India. On Monday, I had started off with the same morning routine of prayer and shaka as the day before. For breakfast, I went to Sachin ji’s house and met his whole family. Like any other cultured Hindu family, all the members of his family gave me a very warm welcome. A while later, I went back to Chetana school and visited several school teachers who taught elementary age students the subjects of Mathematics, English, and Computer Basics. To my luck, the teachers allowed me to aid the students who were mentally challenged. After a couple hours, I understood how difficult it was to teach even the most basic concepts in Math and English to third and four grade students. It was great to see how dedicated and passionate the teachers were to helping students overcome their difficulties and become better individuals in life. The following day, Sachin ji and I first visited the Blind School. Since this school was more formal than the Chetana School and followed the state curriculum, I was not able to directly interact with students and teachers but I was allowed to watch the teachers teach students various subjects ranging from Sciences and Technology to Poetry and Linguistics. At this school, the students were very proud and passionate of learning and aimed to perform their very best to excel in their academics. Later in the afternoon, I went back to the Chetana School and went to the school workshop for adult students where disabled students hand-made bags, envelopes, and many other items. Although the work seemed a bit mundane for regular people, it was an activity that bonded students very well. Many of the students got very excited to see visitors and several kept asking me if I would come back to work with them the next day. This day, I was able to not only see how happy these students were but also understand that even though they faced many difficulties, they were still able to overcome their hurdles and make it seem as if their life was perfect. Finally, on the last day of my five day stay at Mangalore, I made my last visit to the Chetana School. Although it was a quite sad since my stay in Mangalore was so short, I was glad to have met many wonderful people in RSS and Sewa Bharati who dedicated their lives to uplift humanity. It was a great opportunity to get to know more about the activities going on in the Mangalore area and spend time with students my age. Thus, after my short five day stay, I would recommend students and youth to volunteer for the Yuva for Sewa internship program if possible or at the very least spend time in their native area to do RSS and or Sewa work.
SEWA INTERNATIONAL GETS JEFFERSON AWARDS FOR PUBLIC SERVICE
Sewa International Houston was conferred with the prestigious Jefferson Awards for outstanding community service in a ceremony held at City Hall in Houston on August 13. Presented by Houston Mayor Annise Parker, this award recognizes Sewa’s monthly community service activities known as Sewa Local Events from July 2012. Sewa International, Houston has been offering its volunteers a chance to impact in their community and bring forth positive change.
Through Sewa Local Events, over 120 volunteers have committed their time serving various local organizations including the Houston Food Bank, Texas Children’s Hospital, Star of Hope Mission, Habitat for Humanity, and the Houston Zoo. Sewa also operates additional full-fledged programs including Refugee Empowerment, Family Services, and their internship opportunities.
Milk Bank for Vanvasi children by Sewa Bharati activists in Ranchi
FIGHTING MALNUTRITION WITH A DIFFERENCE
Malnutrition has emerged as a major child killer in our country. It is more common in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNICEF, one in every three malnourished children in the world lives in India and at least 44 per cent children are underweight. Malnutrition for young children has serious and long-term consequences, because it impedes motor, sensory, cognitive, social and emotional development. Their immune system remains weaker, leaving them more vulnerable to disease. For instance, they are five times more likely to die from diarrhea. Poor nutrition is also associated with nearly half of the deaths for children under five years (about 3.1 million) each year.Inadequate care of women and girls, especially during pregnancy, results in low- birth weight babies. Nearly 30 per cent of all newborns have a low birth weight, making them vulnerable to further malnutrition and disease. The future of rural India, where the highest concentration of poverty prevails, depends upon overcoming the challenges causing it. To counter the trend, the Government of India started many schemes under the banner of Integrated Child Development Services, but the picture on the ground is still disturbing.In this situation the Sewa Bharati activists in Ranchi started a unique initiative to fight malnutrition. Instead of offering any mid-day meal they provide cow milk to the children studying upto 5th standard. The work began in 2012 by forming a group of 17 women. Today, there are 170 women in this group and the number is growing everyday. Around 300 children studying in Saraswati Shishu Mandir at Jonha are provided around 100 mg milk everyday during the lunch break. They belong to 20 villages, mostly situated near the famous Jonha Fall. The milk is taken from a goushala run by Birsa Sewa Prakalpa. This group of women has pledged to feed milk to at least 1000 children by the end of this financial year.The idea of feeding milk to school children studying up to 5th standard clicked to Rashtriya Sewa Bharati joint general secretary Shri Gurusharan Prasad, when he visited Birsa Sewa Prakalp goushala last year. The entire milk of the goushala was then sold in the market. When he proposed to stop the sale of milk and provide it to the school children, the first question raised by the activists was how to meet the espenses of the goushala. But the remedy to the question was suggested by some activists only who proposed to involve some women of the city and collect some amount in the form of gousewa. Finally, the Vatsalya Dugdha Yojna was launched and the responsibility to take up the cause ahead was entrusted to Manjusha Deshpande, an activist. She has worked hard to develop 10 groups having ten members in each group.“In the beginning we focused on Satellite Colony of Ranchi and a good number of women joined us in the endeavour. Then women from many different colonies started joining us. The annual fee for this group has been fixed Rs 300. This amount is provided to the goushala, which provides milk for the children. Now we have owned up the expenses of the goushala and in turn the goushala has owned the responsibility of providing milk to the children without fail. The response is so overwhelming that the women from many other colonies including Rashmirathi Apartment, Ganesh Apartment, Tirupati Mansion, Himalaya Apartment, Nivaranpur Jaishree Apartment, Court Sarai Road, Haramu Housing Colony etc. are also joining the groups. “The biggest benefit of the scheme is that the goushala gets adequate money to meet its daily expenses and the children also get milk daily without fail,” says Manjusha Deshpande, convener of the Vatsalya Dugdha Yojna.“Malnutrition cannot be fought through lip service. It needs sound and sincere work on the ground. Since the level of malnutrition is very high in rural areas, we found it inappropriate to provide mid-day meal to the school children. There is no parallel of milk in fighting the deficiencies in human body. It is complete food, especially when it comes from a desi cow. That is why we have focused on it. All the cows in the goushala are of indigenous breed and the milk provided by them is rich with all necessary vitamins,” said Shri Gurusharan Prasad, adding that the scheme has proved a big hit and there are plans to start it at the state level.Apart from providing milk to the school children, the members of the Dugdha Yojna have also started providing lunch to the patients in Ranchi government hospital. They provide around 100 tiffins to prominently the child patients every day. “In the evening the tiffins are supplied to 100 families and they are collected at around 10 am every day along with rupees five per tiffin. The amount collected with the tiffin basically helps in meeting the expenses of the workers engaged in their transportation and distribution, etc. The amount is deposited in the Sewa Bharati account. “By and large both these projects are self-reliant. We hope to form a group of around 1000 women for this project also,” added Shri Gurusharan Prasad.“Though, we have not conducted any scientific study, anyone can see the good impact of the scheme in the form of improved health of all the children. Not only us, the parents of the kids too see this improvement,” added Manjusha Deshpande.At the time when the government efforts at fighting malnutrition are not drawing the desired results, this initiative by Sewa Bharati activists in Vanvasi region can prove to be an eye opener for the policymakers and other voluntary organisations, which are seriously fighting against malnutrition.
Through over 200 Mangal Dals, Basanti Behan revitalises forests and river tributaries in Uttarakhand
INVIGORATING THE NATURAL LIFELINES
Deforestation has caused huge damage to the ecosystem of Himalayan states. Not only city-dwellers, but also the villagers are suffering immensely. Obviously, any damage to forests first has adverse impact on the local water resources and livelihood of the villagers. That is why a large number of villages in Uttarakhand are facing acute water shortage, as many river tributaries are drying up. The villages in Kosi, Mansari Nala and Lod Valleys around Almora and Kausani had also faced the similar situation some years back. But a minor initiative of forest preservation by local women changed the picture of this entire region to the extent that not only the forests, but also the Kosi has been revived. The face behind this miracle is Basanti Behan of Lakshmi Ashram Kausani, who created over 200 women groups for this objective.
If you want to virtually see how a minor change in the mindset of people can fetch miraculous results, visit Almora, especially the Kosi, Mansari and Lod Valleys in Uttarakhand. The local women, who once contributed in forest-destruction, are now the proud forest protectors. It not only restored greenery here but also revitalised the Kosi River. The credit for changing this mindset goes to Basanti Behan who dedicated almost three decades of her life to this region.
Basanti Behan successfully mobilised over 2,500 local women by forming about 200 Mangal Dal. Each group has 10 to 15 women who not only refrain from causing any damage to the forest, but also stop others from doing it. The formation of such groups basically began with resolving the drinking water problem in the region in 2003. Basanti Behan points out that there were about 365 water resources in the region, which had started drying up due to unmindful deforestation. Even the water of Kosi had reduced drastically. The deforestation had turned green mountains nude. Gradually, the water crisis deepened so much in the year 2003 that Police had to guard the water resources. As a result the farmers stopped getting water for irrigation.
“The permanent solution to the crisis was large-scale tree plantation. We took the initiative. In the beginning, people were not ready to listen to us. I roamed villages for many weeks, but did not find any woman to speak to, as they all were in the forests. Some village elders then commented that ‘these women will not listen to even the District Magistrate or District Forest Officer if they prevent them from cutting trees.’ But I was undeterred. After many days I found a group of women returning from forests carrying wood on their heads. I spoke to them and persuaded to bring only as much wood as they really need. I also told them if they continue to destroy the trees, the Kosi too will dry and there will be no farming or forest products. Many women then confessed in front of me that they did not know the relation between the forest and the water and since there was a blind race to store more wood they had joined it,” says Basanti Behan while talking to Organiser.
With the limited support of some women, Basanti started forming several Mangal Dal. Each Dal took a pledge taking Kosi water in their hands that they will save the Kosi, green wood will neither be cut from the forest, nor would it be allowed to cut and they will protect the forest from fire. Later, the forest department also recognised their right to dry wood. Gradually, the women of other village also joined it.
The Mangal Dal then took some more initiatives. They started raiding the houses where woods were stored more than the requirements. They also planted thousands of trees. Gradually, the villagers started realising the significance of the movement. Today it has spread in more than 200 adjoining villages. They also formed some self-help groups, which strengthened their financial condition.
When the work basically began in 2003 there was a lot of antagonism towards the forest department. Any attempt at forest preservation was seen as ‘siding with the forest officials’. But Basanti convinced the villagers that the forests belonged to them and not to the Government alone, and that they too had a responsibility to protect them. Gradually, the villagers accepted this viewpoint.
The ecosystem responded magnificently to this initiative. Where there were sparse pine forests, now broad-leaved trees are coming back. The forest floor has saplings of rhododendron (buraansh), oak (banj), and myrica nagi (kaafal). All this is through natural regeneration. Seasonal springs now flow throughout the year. The springs at Rauliyan and at Kaphadi would dry up in the summer. For the last couple of years, they have been perennial.
The personal life of Basanti has been very tragic. Originally, hailing from Charma (Digra) village of Pithoragarh, she became a widow at the age of 14. Living the life of a child widow was a big challenge, but her father fully supported her. He was not ready for her second marriage. He realised that the first marriage was done under the pressure from the society, which proved a punishment to his daughter. Then Basanti came closer to the activities of Lakshmi Ashram, Kausani, and joined the social life. She then restarted her studies at the age of 34 and successfully completed matriculation. She is now a household name in the entire State, as many see her as an inspiration.
EYE CAMP BY VANVASI KALYAN KENDRA LOHARDAGA
Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra Lohardaga organised an eye camp on August 25. A total of 52 patients were operated on at the camp. Dr Deepak Lakra and Dr Sanjeev from the AIIMS, Ranchi, operated the patients. The Kendra organised two camps in this month and no fee was charged from the patients. Hospital expenses were supported by the Bhansali Trust, and SPL Trust. A medical van was also sponsored by IDRF, USA. Dr NP Singh and Dr Ramagya coordinated the entire programme.