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Weekend warriors: Student groups help out the poor

Undergraduates take out time from hospital work or college and poring over thick tomes on medicine. And they did it not for credits, but showcase medicine and science to school children.

health and fitness Updated: May 03, 2014 23:05 IST

Jars of preserved human organs, including the brain and foetuses, rare medical equipment and books were on display in an exhibition at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) last weekend. To curate the show, MBBS undergraduates took out time from hospital work and poring over thick tomes on medicine. And they did it not for credits, but showcase medicine and science to school children.

“Fewer students are opting for medicine today than a decade ago. India needs doctors, so we thought this will be a fun and educative way to get them interested in biological sciences,” said Vishnu Krishna Koneru, a sixth semester MBBS student at AIIMS.

The exhibition will also help students raise money to fund the school fees of 20 orphans they have been funding through an NGO called Parivartan that the batch has set up to help students with limited financial means.

“We have long-term plans in terms of activities we want to pursue under our charity initiative, including tutoring underprivileged children for free in our spare time,” said Ajay Mohan, also a sixth semester student and a core member of the group.

Mohan and gang are already coaching MBBS aspirants who do not have enough money to attend coaching institutes. “We prepare them for various medical entrance examinations without charging them,” said Mohan.

Focus on altruism
Every two weeks, 35 student volunteers from Mumbai’s KC College pack weekend bags and head to the tribal village of Karvale in neighbouring Thane district. Here, they take turns building toilets, holding vocational guidance classes for local schoolchildren and, most importantly, conducting health education awareness camps for the adult population, especially the women.

“These activities help establish a bond with the villagers,” says Satish Kolte, NSS programme officer at KC College. “Then they are more inclined to trust us, attend our sessions, and travel with us to Mumbai to undergo the free cataract surgeries, which is our primary mission there.”

KC College, which is affiliated to the University of Mumbai, ‘adopted’ Karvale village in 2005, as part of its National Service Scheme (NSS) programme. Initially, the students focused just on basic education and awareness camps.

In 2010, the NSS group made it their primary mission to prevent blindness by tying up with city hospitals to offer free cataract-removal surgeries.

Next, volunteers organised a 10-days eye-checkup camp in the village each December. And every May, when their exams are over and vacations have begun, they escort villagers who need cataracts removed to the city for surgery.

Called ‘Cataract Operation’, the mission has now treated 41 tribals at the Bombay City Eye Institute and and Research Centre. The cost of travel and lodging the villagers in the city for three days is funded through donations.

“The pre-operation stage is the toughest. You need to build trust to convince villagers that we are here to help them and only have their good at heart,” adds Aishwarya Menon, 21, who graduated from KC College last year and continues to volunteer.

“It feels wonderful to do your bit without expecting anything in return. It makes the final outcome all the more thrilling,” says Sagar Mehta, 22, an NSS volunteer who is pursuing Master’s in IT at KC College.

Saving a living heritage
In Delhi’s Kathputli Colony, puppeteers have got a helping hand from an unexpected quarter –undergraduate students from Delhi University’s Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC). As part of the Enactus – a global non- profit student’s organisation –students, initially met four puppeteers from the community.

Over the past year and a half, SRCC students have helped the puppeteers identify and develop a stable and sufficient source of income by tapping newer markets. Some of the problems identified were the lack of organisation in the community, inability of the artists to market their art, growing middlemen-caused debts and the advent of TV and the Internet.

Through the project called Kayakalp, the students worked to empower the puppeteers and spread social and environmental messages.

The puppeteers were asked junk stories of kings and battles that people no longer related to in favour of contemporary themes. Story-development sessions by a professional theatre mentor helped them build scripts – such as one around bullying - to solve this problem. Contemporary-looking puppets were used that children could easily relate to.

The puppeteers were also given an opportunity to intern for a month with renowned puppeteers to help them hone their skills. By the end of the project, they had successfully completed 11 puppet shows and three puppet-making workshops.

Last and not the least, their income more than doubled, going up from around Rs 3,000 per month to Rs 7,291.

All they needed were creative inputs to best display their puppeteering skills.