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Anandwan: A Journey from Stone to Milestone to Milestone (Part 4)

SubscribeFiled Under: India,by Neeraj

A detailed essay from my second visit to Anandwan. I had the opportunity to spend some time with Social Enterprise Entrepreneur and Scientist, Dr. Vikas Amte, and learn about the Green and Industrial Revolutions that he has brought about in Anandwan … a journey that Dr. Amte says goes from “stone to milestone to milestone.”

Click for: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

One-on-One with Dr. Vikas Amte

We returned back to the office site at around 7:30 AM. Dr. Amte introduced me to his “cabinet” or “close hands” comprising of Dr. Vijay Pole (Leprologist), Mr. Ambudkar, Mr. Kavishwar, Mr. Sitakant Prabhu (Chief Guest Coordinator), Mr. Pramod Bakshi (Guest Coordinator) and Mr. Ashok Mistry (responsible for Tube Wells and Check Dams). It was the synergies of this “cabinet” that has made Anandwan into what it is today. Dr. Amte said his son, Kaustubh, will have to form his own cabinet as all his members are well into their 60s.

Part of Dr. Vikas Amte's "Cabinet" (L to R): Dr. Pole, Mr. Ambudkar, Mr. Kavishwar and Mr. Prabhu

Part of Dr. Vikas Amte’s “Cabinet” (L to R): Dr. Pole, Mr. Ambudkar, Mr. Kavishwar and Mr. Prabhu

I enjoyed meeting Dr. Amte’s cabinet members who all left to start their day after having their morning breakfast and tea. At a time when most people are well into their retirement, Dr. Amte and his cabinet members are still going strong and still working hard every day with so much zest and passion.

Mr. Ashok Mistry

Mr. Ashok Mistry

My wife, Bhakti, was not able to join me for the morning walk with Dr. Amte because of a severe throat infection. She was now here and it was just the three of us sitting in front of Anandwan’s main office building, which is aptly named Jodo Bharat (Unite India). Dr. Amte himself was suffering from chronic throat pain and as a result he was speaking very softly and sometimes uses a microphone when addressing a large group of visitors. He attributes his throat problems to drinking of contaminated water at Zari (70-km from Anandwan), which is an outreach project to help a village suffering with the deluge of farmer suicides.

Dr. Amte, who is always modestly dressed in Anandwan-made clothes and Anandwan-made footwear, which is made using recycled tires, will impress just about anyone with his extraordinary knowledge on a myriad of topics ranging from a theory about how the unpredictability of monsoon rains in recent years may have a connection to the massive undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean in 2004 to talking about the significant transmission loss that is incurred in supplying electricity from coal power plants near Chandrapur to Mumbai, which is nearly 900-km away.

As we sat there just listening to him, he started telling us about Baba Amte, Anandwan and some of the engineering and “Green” initiatives of the MSS. I tried to quickly jot down some notes in my notebook as he rapidly started speaking…

“Baba was a farmer first”

Dr. Amte said his father, Baba Amte, was a farmer first; food security was of utmost importance to him. Somnath, which is MSS’s breadbasket, was started by him in 1967 and food produced there is stored in granaries, which is used at Anandwan and other MSS projects. There is enough grain stored to last for approximately two years.

Baba Amte’s Many Recognitions

In 1983, Baba Amte received the Damien-Dutton award. He was the first non-medical person (Baba was a lawyer by profession) to win the highest medical award in the world! Baba was also the first to receive the Raja Ram Mohan RoyRabindranath Tagore and Babasaheb Ambedkar awards. In 1990, he received the Templeton Prize, the world’s largest cash prize (worth more than the Nobel Prize).

Sexuality and Parenthood at Anandwan

We learned that Baba Amte’s wife, Sadhana Tai, started a practice at Anandwan, which was unheard of at the time, at least in India – marriage among leprosy-afflicted people. While Tai gave them the right to sexuality, which was taken away from them by the mainstream society, her son, Dr. Vikas Amte, gave them the right to parenthood.

Today, there are hundreds of inter-disability (e.g. blind with blind or leprosy-afflicted with leprosy-afflicted) and intra-disability (e.g. blind with deaf-mute or blind with leprosy-afflicted) marriages in Anandwan. I was lucky enough to meet a newly married couple as I was walking around Anandwan; the groom was leprosy-afflicted and the bride was blind.

A wedding procession of a newly married couple that I ran into while roaming around Anandwan

A wedding procession of a newly married couple that I ran into while roaming around Anandwan

The groom is leprosy-afflicted and the bride is blind. Intra-disability (like this one) and inter-disability marriages are now common in Anandwan.

The groom is leprosy-afflicted and the bride is blind. Intra-disability (like this one) and inter-disability marriages are now common in Anandwan.

Media Called Baba Amte a “Traitor”

In 1990, Baba left Anandwan to join the Narmada Bachao Andolan (“Save Narmada Movement”), which was a movement to protest against a large dam that was planned to be built on the Narmada River. The dam would cause the displacement of the poor villagers as well as irreparable environmental damage. During the Movement when Baba was living along the banks of the Narmada River, leading newspapers called him a “traitor” as he was anti-dam and anti-mining; they said he was anti-development.

MSS lost many a corporate donors as a result of this negative publicity.

Dr. Vikas Amte: First Medical Doctor in the Madia-Gond Tribal Belt

We also learned that when Baba took on the cause of the neglected Madia-Gond tribal people of Maharashtra’s underdeveloped Gadchiroli district, Dr. Vikas Amte used to drive him in a truck to that area, which had very limited accessibility. During this time, Dr. Amte learned to repair trucks and also became the first medical doctor to go in the tribal belt, which was well before his younger brother, Dr. Prakash Amte, took over Baba Amte’s Lok Biradari Prakalp (People’s Brotherhood Project) established for the welfare of the tribal people in 1973.

This is the place where Dr. Vikas Amte used to repair the truck he used to drive Baba Amte in to the forests where the neglected Madia-Gond tribal people lived

This is the place where Dr. Vikas Amte used to repair the truck he used to drive Baba Amte in to the forests where the neglected Madia-Gond tribal people lived

Dr. Vikas Amte recalled that when he prescribed pills to the tribal people with the advice (probably using sign language) to take two per day, they took all the pills at once due to communication barrier since neither spoke each other’s language. The tribal people were completely cut-off from modern civilization; when they were given soap for washing hands, they ate it!

A Drive through Anandwan

As Dr. Amte was speaking, one of Anandwan’s drivers returned with a jeep, which is used to ferry visitors, volunteers and staff within MSS projects. Dr. Amte stood up and asked us to come with him. He entered the driver’s side of the jeep and I took the passenger seat while Bhakti sat in the back…

Dairy

Dr. Amte first drove us to Anandwan’s dairy, which has dozens of cows and buffaloes  The cattle here were some of the biggest I have ever seen in India! They are kept on a high-protein fodder diet, which keeps them healthy and has substantially increased their milk yields. In the surrounding areas, milk produced at Anandwan is famous for its quality and purity; it is also sold cheaper than “outside” milk, which is often adulterated.

Cows at Anandwan's dairy

Cows at Anandwan’s dairy

Buffaloes at Anandwan's dairy

Buffaloes at Anandwan’s dairy

Dr. Amte attributes the dairy’s success to Mr. Gajanan Vasu, who came to Anandwan after being driven away from his home and village for contracting leprosy.

Mega Mess

Next, we drove to a large building that was still under construction. This building will be the future “Mega Mess” of Anandwan. Currently, there are 9 separate canteens in Anandwan that serve food to visiting guests, volunteers, school students and other residential groups. The Mega Mess is being constructed to consolidate all the canteens for more efficient management of resources.

Under Construction: Anandwan's new Mega Mess to consolidate all the smaller canteens

Under Construction: Anandwan’s new Mega Mess to consolidate all the smaller canteens

Funds for the new mess are donated by Switzerland. In fact, when we were visiting Anandwan a group of Swiss girls had also arrived to see the progress of the building. They were staying in the same U-shaped guesthouse and enjoyed playing outside in the rain during a brief, but heavy, rain spell.

“I don’t just build houses – I build villages”

Dr. Amte then drove us to a house near the plants nursery. We walked into the house and he pointed to the roof, which was unlike anything I had ever seen; it had a clover-leaf design where the bricks are laid in a circular-fashion. The new technique, championed by Dr. Amte, eliminates the use of support during construction and also does not call for the use of iron, thereby reducing the cost of construction. The houses can be built in only 17 days and are also 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler!

Innovative low-on-cost and high-on-quality housing that can be built in only 17 days

Innovative low-on-cost and high-on-quality housing that can be built in only 17 days

The mud bricks used in the construction are eco-friendly and an invention of Dr. Amte. The bricks are stabilized concrete mud blocks (shed-dried and water-cured), which are made using Ellson Blockmaster. The bricks are composed of 60 parts Mud, 40 parts Sand, 5 parts Cement, 1 part Plastic and 1 part Flyash.

Since the bricks are adequately strong, they do not need to be strengthened by firing (like in traditional brick-making process). As such, fuel is not required thereby further reducing the cost of construction.

This "clover-leaf" roof design eliminates the need for support during construction

This “clover-leaf” roof design eliminates the need for support during construction

Dr. Amte said these houses are not low-cost, but low-on-cost and high-on-quality. They are weather-proof and rat-proof. This is especially important for leprosy-afflicted people because, as Dr. Amte says, if their limbs have lost sensation, then they won’t know until the next day if they have been bitten by a rat while sleeping!

Dr. Amte is currently looking for building experts who can help him document his economically-viable and eco-friendly inventions and construction techniques, so that others can use it too.

The building is weather and rat-proof

The building is weather and rat-proof

“I don’t just build houses”, says Dr. Amte, “I build villages.”

Bio-Gas Plant: From Shee (Poop) to Vitamin Shee!

We drove by one of the bio-gas plants, which are a unique feature of Anandwan. The plants are built and designed by Dr. Vikas Amte. Until my visit, I wasn’t aware that Anandwan has the largest bio-gas plant in India, and I also didn’t know that Dr. Amte is the Bio-Gas Plant Advisor for the Government of India!

Bio-Gas Plant: turns "shee" (poop) into "Vitamin Shee" and cooking gas!

Bio-Gas Plant: turns “shee” (poop) into “Vitamin Shee” and cooking gas!

Anandwan has the largest bio-gas plant in India

Anandwan has the largest bio-gas plant in India

I think the bio-gas plants are an epitome of Anandwan’s many eco-friendly initiatives. In a nut-shell, the plant works like this: human waste from the toilets goes to the plant; the plant converts waste to methane gas, which is used for cooking at Anandwan’s many kitchens; the slurry that is leftover after the waste is processed for methane gas is pumped out of the plant to be used for composting and for improving the quality of soil in Anandwan’s fields – Dr. Amte calls this “vitamin shee” (vitamin poop)!

Closing of Anandwan…

“My mission is to close Anandwan”, said Dr. Amte. I interpret that as meaning when the mainstream society has matured to the point that no person shall become “unwanted” for contracting leprosy or for being disabled in any way, then there will be no need for Anandwan.

There are many charitable organizations out there. However, many of these either have an ulterior motive of proselytizing, or have high management and administration costs so that very little is actually used for the “good work”. Maharogi Sewa Samiti (MSS) is one of the few NGOs that I know where the sole focus is not just giving the downtrodden people charity, but giving them a chance and empowering them so they can live a life of dignity.

In a world of paisa-phek-tamasha-dhek, Anandwan is a like an oasis in a vast desert. It is a place that gives me inspiration and tremendous happiness every time I visit. It was only my second visit to Anandwan, an overdue one at that, but I was happy to have spent a week visiting Anandwan, Somnath and Hemalkasa projects of MSS. I feel like I have only scratched the surface of the work this organization does. There is much more to see and learn. My only regret was not having enough time to visit MSS’s new outreach project at Zari.

Next time…

Practical Information on Visiting Anandwan

It is easy to plan a trip to Anandwan on your own. There are plenty of trains from Pune, Mumbai, Thane and Nasik to suit your schedule. Depending on the train and your preference, you have the option to disembark at Nagpur, Wardha or Warora, and then travel by road to Anandwan. There are also regularly scheduled flights from Pune and Mumbai to Nagpur. Details of some of the best transportation options from each of the above mentioned places are given below.

Please get in touch with Mr. Sitakant Prabhu, the Chief Guest Coordinator at Anandwan, and advice him of your plans and dates before making your reservations.

Mobile Phone: +91-9011094626 | Land Line: +91-7176-282034 | E-mail: visitors[at]anandwan[dot]in or anandwan[at]gmail[dot]com

From Pune:

Azad Hind Express (Train No. 12129) has daily evening departures from Pune Station (PUNE). The following morning, the train arrives at Wardha Junction (WR) and then, 1.5-hours later, at Nagpur (NGP).

IndiGo, Air India, Jet Konnect and Jet Airways have regularly scheduled flights from Pune’s Lohegaon Airport (PNQ) to Nagpur’s Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Airport (NAG).

From Mumbai/Thane/Nasik:

Gitanjali Express (Train No. 12859) has daily morning departures from Mumbai’s CST station (CSTM), with stops at Dadar (DR), Kalyan Junction (KYN) and Nasik Road (NK). The train arrives at Wardha Junction (WR) in the evening, and at Nagpur (NGP) 1.5-hours later.

Nagpur Duronto (Train No. 12289) has daily evening departures from Mumbai’s CST station (CSTM). The non-stop train arrives at Nagpur (NGP) the following morning and is the fastest train between Mumbai and Napgur.

Sevagram Express (12139, Slip-51195) has daily afternoon departures from Mumbai’s CST station (CSTM), with stops at Dadar (DR), Thane (TNA), Kalyan Junction (KYN) and Nasik Road (NK). The following morning, the train arrives at Wardha Junction (WR) and then, 1.5-hours later, at Nagpur (NGP). After a 3-hours halt at Wardha Junction, the Slip Route goes to Warora (WRR). Although somewhat slow, the Slip Route is the most convenient for senior citizens as Anandwan is less than a 10-minutes rickshaw ride from Warora.

Vidharbh Express (Train No. 12105) has daily morning departures from Mumbai’s CST station (CSTM), with stops at Dadar (DR), Kalyan Junction (KYN) and Nasik Road (NK). The following morning, the train arrives at Wardha Junction (WR) and then, 1.5-hours later, at Nagpur (NGP).

IndiGo, GoAirAir IndiaJet Konnect and Jet Airways have regularly scheduled flights from Mumbai’s Chatrapati Shivaji Airport (BOM) to Nagpur’s Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Airport (NAG).

From Nagpur:

State Transport (S.T.) buses to Chandrapur and Warora depart at regularly scheduled intervals. Catch any of these buses and ask the bus conductor to let you off at Anandwan Chowk (Square), from where you can walk or hail a rickshaw up to Anandwan’s main office building, which is barely 1-km away.

Nagpur Bus Stand is just over 1-km from its Railway Station. The distance from Nagpur to Anandwan is around 110-km and it takes around 2-hours of travel time in an S.T. bus. The highway is in excellent condition.

From Wardha:

State Transport (S.T.) buses to Chandrapur and Warora depart at regularly scheduled intervals. Catch any of these buses and ask the bus conductor to let you off at Anandwan Chowk (Square), from where you can walk or hail a rickshaw up to Anandwan’s main office building, which is barely 1-km away.

From Warora:

Anandwan’s main office building is less than a 10-minutes rickshaw ride from Warora station.


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