Lok Biradari Prakalp



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Lok Biradari Prakalp
People's Brotherhood Project


I was wondering how it must be - to go and live in a dense forest, 'thrive' on nature's 'bounties" and be one with it. Suffer the punishments inflicted by the Nature. Flow with the forces of nature. The five powerful and omnipresent forces of nature - Fire, Air, Water, Earth and Space are in essence the sole controllers of all actions. 

Whilst these thoughts raced in my mind, the drive to the Lok Biradari Prakalp was fast coming to an end. We raced through clean and beautiful surroundings, aplenty with teak trees and occasionally, as we crossed villages, the cattle and animals of the rural folk, were seen.

It was only minutes later after a good five and a half-hour start from Nagpur that I saw the beaming face of Dr. Prakash Amte. A person, so affable, that he welcomes every single visitor with equal enthusiasm at the Lok Biradari Prakalp (People's Brotherhood Project). In plain white 'bundis' and shorts, Prakash, Vilas Manohar, Gopal Phadnis and Dada Panchal were together in the verandah of Prakash's house when we came in.




Dr. Prakash and Dr. Mandakini Amte

I have rarely come across people like the ones managing this project. Absolutely down-to-earth, a smile on everyone's face, Prakash Amte and his colleagues are amongst the most famous Indians living today and the tales of their deeds are nowadays a part of the school curriculum in India. I must mention before I get into the project details deeply that Prakash and Mandakini Amte are among the few rare Indians to be honored with a postal stamp by any foreign country.


I had known this fact since the stamp was issued and whenever I used to meet Avinash Patwardhan (Prakash's cousin) and listen to his ranting about the short-flow of funds for the project, I was always surprised. How can the lone Indian couple who have been honored thus, have a fund shortfall at the project? Is it that we Indians are negligent about the good work being done around us? Are we so blind that we cannot see such efforts being made within our country for our brethren, and the Prince of Monaco could notice it ?? I had read the letter addressed by the Principality of Monaco to Prakash and Manda. It contained the words - "I have great pride in bestowing upon you, this honor."

Where has the Indian pride gone? Naturally to take a walk down the beautiful countryside that we have in our vast country.

A countryside that belongs to the rural folk. To the tribals; the very people for whom the Lok Biradari Prakalp was established by the revered Murlidhar Devidas Amte (Baba Amte) in December 1973. The eyes of the Baba light up at the mere mention of the project. The pride of successful service to the tribals by his son, shows in that gleam in his eyes. 



Why did Prakash do it? 

"My father never forced me to take up this duty. When we came to the project for a picnic, Manda and Me decided that we belonged to this jungle. We were firm in giving back everything that we got back in the form of education to these primitive, neglected tribals." Says Prakash.


Were there any regrets ever?
"How can one regret this? It was a godsend opportunity that let us return to the society what we gained from it."

What have you and your mates at the project been able to achieve so far?
"Baba started this project as he saw the state of living of the Madia tribals. There was no civilized society. The traders and business folks in the jungle exploited the Madia tribals. It was necessary to make them aware of their human rights; impart education to their children, provide medical facilities to them. That is what the project exactly does. We established a school for the tribals. We have a hospital here and tribal patients from far and wide are treated here. We also have an animal orphanage at the LBP, which is an attraction to the visitors. But amongst the achievements that we are proud is that there are three doctors from the Madia tribal community who were groomed at the LBP school. These doctors are practicing and serving humanity, today. Dr. Nobel of Stitching Geron, an NGO in the Netherlands described this transformation as the rarest of the rarest cases where out of an ignorant and neglected tribe an NGO was able to convert tribals into practicing Doctors."

How does the project carry on with all this work? What is the remuneration from the patients?

"We have never charged for our medical or educational services. The LBP depends on grants from individual donors as well as funds from our parent body - Maharogi Sewa Samiti that is the world's largest leprosarium. My able elder brother Dr. Vikas Amte has dedicated his life to the MSS, which is located at Warora. We face a severe crunch of funds as we have limited resources for education and medical facilities. The demand far outgrows the supply. Though we have been getting help from SwissAid, Oxfam, Red Cross of Monaco, Maharashtra Sewa Samiti, Canada, CIDA, The Dorabji Tata Trust, Action Aid, Stitching Geron and others, there is a lot to be done. Our government grants are always late and they are for 200 students whereas we have over 500 in the school. We provide housing, boarding, books and clothing absolutely free to all children at the school. There are approximately 40 teachers to whom we have to pay salaries. It is impossible to turn away tribals who are interested in educating their children. So the only option is to increase the resource inflow. We await philanthropists' contribution to the project."


How many patients are treated here ?
Every year we treat almost over 45,000 tribals. 

What are the ailments?
The most common ailments are malnutrition, cerebral malaria, sever anemia, sickle cell anemia, diahorrea and dysentery. There are cases of Cancer, tuberculosis, snake bites, bear-bites and many complicated fractures as well.

What do the medicines cost annually?
We need medicines worth over Rs. 20 lakhs annually. We lack facilities for a blood bank. This is a function we desperately need. Today, if a patient dies for want of blood, it is we who have to spend sleepless nights cursing ourselves for the inability. But the government regulations do not allow us to transfuse blood at our project. We want to start a full-fledged blood bank and HIV testing facilities at the project hospital.

Though none can doubt the enrichment in the life of tribals due to the project, which other areas has the project specially touched?

Due to the project school, the tribals are an aware lot now. Thus the exploitation has lessened. Due to our animal orphanage, the killing of the animals has lessened and their population in the jungle has gone up. Today, instead of going to a 'Vaidu' (witch doctor) for treatment, the tribals come to the project hospital. Life expectancy has increased. There has also been a fall in the superstition level and the sacrifice of animals has gone down. The awareness level of the entire region has gone up, tremendously. This is a very satisfying fact."


How did you begin the animal orphanage?
The story goes back to our routine walk in the jungle. The Madia tribals had killed 2 large macaques for food and there was a baby macaque clinging to its mother. Upon requesting them, the tribals gave the baby monkey to us. Both of us became parents to that monkey and when the tribals saw this after some days, they started bringing orphaned animals to us. These animals (Prakash now has a Lion, 2 leopards, hyenas, bears, jackals, monkeys, deer, antelopes, giants squirrels, monitor lizard, a civet cat and many poisonous and non-poisonous snakes amongst other animals and birds with him) are like my extended family. I meet them every day and they have helped tremendously over the years in removing many of the tribal superstitions and fears.

How did it feel to get the honor from the Principality of Monaco?
In fact it was very satisfying to know that there were people across the seven seas that care for the project. We lack funds and resources. Philanthropists from across the world could make our dreams turn into reality.

What are the future plans?

We immediately need to increase the medical and education facilities. The number of tribals requesting education for their children are growing. We do not want to turn a single child away.

{Just then, Dada Panchal (the Head master of the Primary school) walks in and intercepts}

You shall be glad to know that one of our tribal students stood first in the 100m track event in the State and shall represent the Maharashtra State.


But then Dada adds with woe that there is no special training facility available. The tribals are very agile and are excellent archers too. The project cannot afford sports shoes or for that matter even a stopwatch for them. Dada, though ecstatic about his students performance is not very hopeful for the future as lack of facilities severely affects all aspects.

On my way back from the Lok Biradari Prakalp, Hemalkasa, my mind was full of mixed feelings. The feeling of elation at meeting the LBP team and having seen their work instilled a sense of gratification at the good work being done. But the guilt also weighed in heavily. Is the human race so blind to the sufferings of others that the Lok Biradari Prakalp have to suffer for lack of funds? Don't people over the world understand that LBP's work can be compared to God's work? On one hand, rearing two of our own children is a major task for most of us and on the other hand are Prakash and his teammates. They have changed the lives of tribals, animals and birds in a forest covering thousands of square miles and are still looking for more.

Dr. Prakash Amte is the Asst. Secretary of the Maharogi Sewa Samiti and the Medical Director of LBP, Hemalkasa. Dr. Mandakini Amte, his wife is a Medical Director at the Project too. Vilas and Renuka (Prakash's sister) are Administrative Officers at the LBP. Amongst Vilas' publications is the famous 'Negal' on the LBP's association with animals. Gopal Phadnis and Dada Panchal are the headmasters of the Secondary and the Primary schools at LBP, respectively. Manohar Yempalwar and Baban Panchal are able assistants in all of the project's works.

The LBP is located in the dense Dandakaranya forests approximately 350 kms from Nagpur City. These forests are spread into three states: Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

The project's primary objective is to be of service to the tribals of these forests and spread the message of compassion amongst them. Donations for the project may be sent as crossed checks payable to 'Maharogi Sewa Samiti, Warora' and can be sent to:


Send Donations for the Project to

Dr.Prakash Amte
Lok Biradari Prakalp
Hemalkasa, P.O. Bhamragarh 
Dist. Gadchiroli, Maharashtra -442710
India.
Tel : ++91-7134-220001


Email:

lbp@sancharnet.in

aniket_amte@rediffmail.com


About the author :
Bhanu Rajagopalan, 31, is a practicing advocate of the art of advertising in Nagpur, the winter capital of Maharashtra, India. He occasionally writes guest columns for different newspapers and magazines. 



 




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