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One Punekar makes a difference: our city our heroes

Civic activism, social work and social welfare stand deeply ingrained in Pune’s character and ethos. A number of illustrious names from our city’s rich history come to mind, of citizens who contributed immensely to social thought and action. If it was Maharishi Dhondo Keshav Karve and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule who strove for the uplift of women, there was Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Lokmanya Tilak who participated in the political movement and social life. It was the lion-hearted Tilak who gave popular form to the Ganeshotsav celebrations in Maharashtra. While those were the giants among men, Pune continues to be blessed, in small and large measure, with that same spirit of social welfare and activism. On the occasion of the first month of publication in Pune today, we present the profiles of citizens who have gone beyond the self to make a difference and light a smile in the lives of those around them.

pune Updated: Jul 24, 2017 15:35 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Pune
SWaCH – Bringing dignity to the life of waste-pickers,Saviour of the downtrodden: Baba Adhav,Society of Friends Of Sassoon Hospital - Home where the children always find a home
Formed in 2005, SWaCH has 12,000 members from Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad and children of SWaCH members get scholarships for eductaion. (HT PHOTO)

SWaCH – Bringing dignity to the life of waste-pickers

SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling ) is India’s first wholly-owned cooperative of self-employed waste pickers or waste collectors. It is based in Pune and was started with an intention to provide livelihood to those working in this sector.

SWaCH is promoted by the waste pickers’ union Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP). Malati Gadgi, Treasurer of the union said, “This union was formed in 1993 and today it has 12,000 members from Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad. All the members of SWaCH are also members of the union KKPKP.

Speaking about SWaCH Gadgil said, “SWaCH was authorised by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to provide waste collection firstly on a pilot basis from 2005. This association between waste pickers and PMC was later formalized in 2008. Since then waste pickers from SWaCH have been working towards waste collection, segregation and recycling.”

Gadgil said that at present SWaCH has 3000 members who specialize in waste management services, door-to- door collection, safe disposal of e- waste among various other things.”

Since it was started SWaCH has come a long way in not just providing sustainable waste management services to the city but also with its efforts of providing a sustainable livelihood to many working in this sector. Since its inception KKPKP has ensured schooling for hundreds of children of waste pickers who earlier were either working in the same sector as child labourers or could not afford schooling. The union is also creating awareness to prevent child marriages and is encouraging girl education.

“Through the funds that we have, we offer scholarships to children of waste pickers for completing their education. Also the government gives a scholarship of Rs 1,850 to children of workers in unclean occupations. We fought for 8 years to ensure that this scholarship is also given to children of waste pickers and since the past two years these children are also getting it,” said Gadgil.

Gadgil emphasised that presently they want the system of waste recycling to be given importance and recycling plants to be set up for the same.

Gadgil also spoke about the red dot campaign started recently launched by the waste pickers and the corporation which promotes dumping of sanitary waste wrapped and marked with a red dot.

Saviour of the downtrodden: Baba Adhav

Voice of the oppressed: Baba Adhav (HT PHOTO)

Deeply influenced by the life and thoughts of Mahatma Phule, Dr Baba Adhav has dedicated his life to uniting labourers and workers from the unorganised sector, including ‘hamals’ or porters, autorickshaw drivers, domestic servants, construction labourers and commercial sex workers. He has spent much of his life in Nana Peth, a locality from the old city where Mahatma Phule used to stay.

An Ayurvedic vaidya (doctor), he empathised with the pain and suffering of `hamals’ (porters) while practicing in Nana Peth. He began his struggle for hamals in the late fifties and his efforts bore fruits in 1969 when the Maharashtra government passed a legislation – Maharashtra Mathadi Hamal and Other Manual Workers Act, in 1969.

Dr Adhav did not stop after this momentous victory. He continued his struggle for hamals by insisting on the implementation of the legislation. Most of the hamals come from rural and socially weaker sections, which means, they continue to need a lot of support and assistance. Baba Adhav’s Hamal Panchayat works towards providing them with financial security and legal protection.

‘Kashtachi Bhakar’ (Bread of Labour) is another of his initiatives wherein the poorest of the poor are provided with nutritious food at nominal rates. The activity has been going on for more than four decades.It was in his childhood that he joined Rashtra Seva Dal were the ideas of working for the rights and welfare of others were imprinted in his mind.

In 1972, Dr Adhav took Maharashtra by storm by launching a social movement – ‘Ek Gao Eak Panvatha’(one village, one water body) to fight against the caste system. He was fighting against the custom of separate wells and water bodies for Dalits and others, and was opposed by many. This agitation was inspired by Mahatma Phule’s revolutionary decision in the 18th century to open his private well for Dalits.

‘Vishamata Nirmoolan Samiti’, a drive against inequality, and ‘Rashtriya Ekta Andolan’, a coalition for national unity, are two of his numerous initiatives through which Dr Adhav seeks to propagate the thoughts of Mahatma Phule and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Eighty-seven years old, he was on the streets last month to support the farmers’ protest.

Society of Friends Of Sassoon Hospital - Home where the children always find a home

Started in 1964, the Society Of Friends Of Sassoon Hospital (SOFOSH) today serves not just poor patients who are uncared for in Pune’s biggest government hospital, but also takes care of orphans and abandoned children. (HT PHOTO)

Around 53 years ago, when a group of citizens joined hands to sow the seeds of an organisation for the welfare of poor people, hardly anyone thought that it would grow and blossom into a giant tree, bringing joy in the lives of many.

Started in 1964, the Society Of Friends Of Sassoon Hospital (SOFOSH) today serves not just poor patients who are uncared for in Pune’s biggest government hospital, but also takes care of orphans and abandoned children.

One of the pioneering adoption agencies in Pune, SOFOSH through its child care centre ‘Shreevatsa’ has been catering to the needs of the abandoned, orphaned children by providing good care, healthy and nutritious food and support facilities.

This organisation was founded barely three years after Pune witnessed its biggest floods with after the Panshet dam burst on July 12, 1961. Realising the need for an organization to provide relief to patients, some people from the Maharashtra Government joined hands and raised funds through industrialists, and registered the institution.

Most patients coming to the government-run Sassoon Hospital were poor and needy with no money to come for treatment. It was SOFOSH, which started offering help in a small way by first providing tea and snacks and then, other things.

“We started with need-based services which were not provided by Sassoon Hospital. Later, we broadened our work area by admitting orphans,” said Mrs. Sharmila Sayed, Administration In-charge of SOFOSH, Pune.

So far, the organization has cared for more than 5,000 orphans and has rehabilitated around 3,500 children by successfully placing them for adoption.

Today, the institution takes care of the medical needs of each and every child, even imparting speech therapy, massage therapy, play therapy for the children who need such treatment.

According to Mrs. Sayed, a long term rehabilitation programme for each child is worked out as per their individual needs. Most of these children are rehabilitated by placing them into adoption.

While the main aim of SOFOSH is “to find a home for children abandoned by others”, the institution has emerged as “a home away from home” for the destitute. In 2008, SOFOSH launched a residential home at Pimple Gurav for mentally and physically challenged children. Presently, 40 such children are taken care by this organisation.

Robin Hood Army - Feeding the needy

Robin Hood Army has 12 chapters across Pune. (HT PHOTO)

Calling themselves, the ‘Robin Hood Army’ (RHA) this group of citizens collects leftover food and distributes it among the needy and the underprivileged. The work originated with a drive launched by Neel Ghosh and Anand Sinha in Delhi in 2014.

To date, they have served more than three and half lakhs hungry children and families who live and work off the streets of Pune. Preference is first given to children and then to the families.

“Robin Hood Army is a volunteer-based organisation. We have no offices, no monetary contributions and the only way of communicating is through social media. We use the technology to spread the word,” said Bhavini Chauhan one of volunteers.

The Pune unit began its work in March, 2015 with a few volunteers like Shivani Chopra, Bhavini Chauhan and others. “I have been working with NGOs , but this is very close to my heart, I have seen people people selling things at signals; sometimes when they ask for a small snack like vadapav, you feel extremely bad. We have seen food being wasted and it’s not that there’s scarcity of food; it’s actually the leftover food/ excess food is not mobilised and collected properly,” says Bhavini. The thought behind starting RHA was to ensure that leftover food is not wasted and is put to good use to feed hungry citizens. The main problem in our country is not scarcity of food it’s actually not proper distribution of it, the volunteers of this group say.

The earliest volunteers were from the Army Public school and Indian Law Society’s Law College. “When we first started, we began with M G Road in the evening, we thought street sellers would be busy but they were so hungry that they made a beeline to eat our humble servings of Khichidi. For this drive, we couldn’t get leftover food from restaurants, so we got food from Army Public School canteen, for distributing among children on MG Road and street people. That day, we served 100 people. When we told the canteen guy, he also helped us and gave us food at a subsidised rate,” says Shivani Chopra.

“RHA works with volunteers approaching restaurants asking them to provide their leftover food to us. Then scouting is done to find out needy people and this leftover food is distributed amongst these people,” says Mohit Rathod, who takes care of Aundh chapter but he feels that it is difficult to convince hotel owners, but we have met a lot of young hoteliers who are ready to help us. for example, the managers of the restaurants as well as chefs take extra effort to make fresh food for the children.

“Most of the kids whom we serve the food are more than excited to get them, they actually take extra and kept for their parents who were away on their work,” Raghunandan Patil.

Bhavini recalls that the first restaurant to give us food was Foodies, from Wanowrie, we served around 150 to 200 street children. He still helps us in providing food in bio degradable dishes for RHA is also environment conscious.

Rajkumar Rathi, is an CA by profession and is instrumental in spreading RHA across Pune. Today, RHA is spread across 12 chapters.

Besides RHA also conducts night drives, where they collect food post events, marriages, parties from caterers. “Through this night drives, we have collected food to the amount of feeding 250 to 1200 people.We collect this food and distribute this at Pune Railway station,” Sanket Sawant.

NETRA - a helping hand to the visually challenged in Pune

Nishigandha Sarolkar who started Netra as a WhatsApp group which is now a collective of people who volunteer to help visually challenged people in Pune (HT PHOTO)

Nishigandha Sarolkar started Netra as a WhatsApp group to form a collective of people who could help visually challenged individuals with various examinations including secondary school, 10th and 12th board, competitive, and government exam among others.

The group started by Sarolkar functions with the help of dedicated members including Pradeep Raheja, Saee Kodalikar, Zahira Khan, Prajakta and Archana Shailesh along with over 145 volunteers. Detailed requirements for writers is posted on the group and the available volunteers show up at the given time and place. The volunteers come from a wide range of professional and social backgrounds.

“The group wouldn’t have been possible without their continuous support since the very beginning,” Sarolkar says.

Sarolkar helped visually challenged students while she was in pursuing engineering. However, she could not continue the help after she started working. Around 2-3 years ago, Sarolkar quit her job and approached two schools for visually impaired children. The first requirement stated by the school was of 40 writers, Sarolkar reminisces from her college in Bangalore where she is pursuing Master’s in Business Administration (MBA).

“I though a Facebook post, WhatsApp forwards and tweets would help me gather 40 people. But I realised it was not that easy. We have a society where people are only concerned about themselves or their family members. I have also known visually impaired people whose families do not care for them,” says Sarolkar.

Netra not only provides writers for visually challenged students but is also provides help in recorded audio books and textbooks for them. The collective of inspired individuals also serves as a depository of blood donors when required.

The group members also help the children study and prepare for their exams. The self-motivated volunteers work without monetary compensation.

“This is my way of giving back to the society,” says Sarolkar.

The versatile 26-year-old from Pune is also holds a place in the India Book of Records for the youngest female to have reached the Marsimek La point on a geared bike. Marsimek La is a mountain pass situated in the Chang-Chemno Range near the border between India and China.

LAKSHYA – Moving local sports talent to the global gold-winning arena

(From left) Amey Yeravdekar,joint secretary, Swastik Sirsikar, vice president, Ashish Desai, secretary, Vishal Chordia, president, Abhijit Kunte, player management head & sunder Iyer, sports administration for Lakshya Institute in Pune. (HT PHOTO)

In our country the biggest obstacle for the athletes is the lack of financial support. The players and their parents are forced to spend their valuable time in managing the chores. So in an attempt to take care of their needs and provide them financial support, Lakshya, a sports NGO was formed in 2009, by some like minded sports enthusiasts in Pune.

With the whole hearted support from corporate companies like Pravin Masalewale and Bharat Forge, the community grew bigger and Lakshya currently supports more than 35 players in chess, badminton, tennis, table tennis, shooting, boxing and archery. They have already started getting results of their efforts in supporting the sports talents. Five Lakshya supported player participated in 2012 London Olympics and the number increased to seven in 2016 Rio Olympics. Interestingly, the entire table tennis squad of India was supported by Lakshya.

“We aim to identify young and budding talented sports persons through a robust talent identification process and nurture them to enhance their performance. Besides ensuring world class training, our player management team takes care of physical fitness, mental toughness, and injury management, as well as diet requirements of the players, to give them the feeling of being wanted by the nation,” said Sunder Iyer, founder member of the NGO.

This year, Shubhankar Dey (badminton), Reshma Mane and Ravinder Khatri (wrestling) impressed with their medal winning performances at the international level, while Pune’s tennis players Siddhant Banthia, Mallika Marathe, Salsa Aher and Sharnya Gaware are doing a commendable job.

“Now our target is 2020 Tokyo Olympics and our aim is 20 by 20, that means we want to have our 20 players representing at the Olympics. We are getting a good response at the national level and we believe we can support more sportspersons to achieve their dreams in future,” said Vishal Chordia, the president of Lakshya.

Though Lakshya is currently not supporting any Para-sportsperson, they are planning to include some players in near future.

Nair Service Samiti – Helping strangers with their last rites

Nair residents in Khadki joined hands to establish the Nair Seva Samiti. (HT PHOTO)

Their members have been known to gather at a moment’s notice, after telephoning one another, and assisting citizens perform the last rites of their near and dear ones. In this age of nuclear and sub-nuclear families, not everyone is able to cope with grief and take care of the rituals after a death in the family. This is when NSS volunteers swing into action and give a dignified farewell to the dead.

Nair Service Samiti (NSS) was founded Late Mannathu Padmanabhan, in Kerala for the welfare of the Nair community, a few Nairs. Resident in Khadki, Pune joined hands to establish the Nair Seva Samithi, Khadki Pune in 1999.

NSS,Khadki has approximately 350 members.NSS working committee has 18 members including Sasidharan B.Nair as President,E.K.Menon as secretary and Trustee Mohan Nair.With the help of members NSS had given financial aid to mentally retarded students under Sassoon hospital.Also every year NSS provides food and garments to various orphanages in city.With this NSS also provide educational and medical support to needy student every year.Last year NSS provided Rs 10,000 educational support to needy students.

Though initially started to reorganize, strengthen and empower the Nair community the N.S.S, has extended the benefits of its service beyond communal and religious boundaries and has been playing significant roles in the social, economic, educational and political transformations of the city.

With the help of their members and the Nair public in and around Khadki,Pune samiti had its own office at Anupam Nagari near Khadki railway station.NSS is functioning for welfare of Nair community. NSS also busy in doing various social and charitable activities.

NSS also conducting ‘Onam’ festival in large scale. As every year this year also NSS will be celebrating ‘Onam’ during last week of September (Last Sunday).NSS also performing ‘Karkidaka Vavu Bali’ every year.For this programme panditji will be came from Kerala only.This year ‘Karkidaka Vavu Bali’ programme will organised on 23 July. Programme will be held at Shanta Apte Ghat,bank of Mula River.This programme will inaugurated by Prakash Dhore corporator of city.

Shyamchi Aai Foundation - Empowering youngsters

Bharat Desalda, founder of Shyamchi Aai Foundation. (Pratham Gokhale/HT PHOTO)

Shyamchi Aai Foundation (SAF) is named after the heart-warming characterisation of a loving mother and her deep influence on her child, in the immensely popular Marathi film, ‘Shyamchi Aai’ directed by Acharya Atre. This foundation is engaged in helping adolescents find their true calling and career in life. They help adolescents bridge the gap between interest, skill and employment opportunities and make informed career choices.

Bharat Desadla, founder president, shares, “We launched Maha Career Mitra Portal, a special platform with 83000+ Government approved higher educational options in Maharashtra – the portal maps courses to each student’s district and assessed interest. We also developed an online web portal - for collaborative social intervention of corporates, Not-for-Profit organisations and the Government.”

Sheetal Bapat, founder director, shares, “Our mission is to build a sustainable ecosystem through the collaborative action of the government, corporate organisations and the community. This ecosystem will facilitate Ability Tests, Basic Life Skills, Counselling Platforms and Direct Intervention Support, enabling adolescents to create the best career pathway for themselves.”

SAF was formed after Sheetal came face-to-face with problems faced by underprivileged kids with regard to education. It was during that time she was approached by her house help to lookout for a job for her daughter. Her house-help was finding it difficult to continue her daughter’s school. “It is unfortunate that we still haven’t been able to deal with issues that cause youngsters to drop out of school or college. I felt the need to create awareness regarding education and I was on a lookout for voluntary work too. I wanted to take up something wherein I could give my 100 per cent instead of just writing cheques to various organisations,” said Sheetal who started in 2011.

SAF has worked with the Government of Maharashtra in secondary education through many projects such as Kal Chachani 2016 project for 16 lakh grade 10 students, Kal Chachani 2017 project for 17 lakh grade 10 students, Content development for a new subject for Grade 9 -‘Self-Development and art appreciation, Trained 150 teacher counsellors for Kaushalya Setu.

SAF Launched a Personal Counselling Helpline for students and has provided mentorship and scholarship for around 1,000 students.

SAF has developed the content for the book Self development and Art appreciation - a grade 9 textbook introduced in all 22,000 secondary schools in 2017.

Shreemant Dagdusheth Halwai Sarvajanik Ganpati Trust - This Ganpati trust is truly blessed with wisdom

Shreemant Dagdusheth Halwai Sarvajanik Ganpati Trust undertakes a number of social welfare activities in Pune. (HT PHOTO)

Dagdusheth Ganpati is the pre-eminent Ganpati of Pune visited by lakhs of devotees at its Budhwar Peth abode, throughout the year. Last year, the ‘Shreemant Dagdusheth Halwai Sarvajanik Ganpati Trust’ received Rs18.59 crore revenue through donations and other sources. As has been the tradition over the years, a number of social welfare activites are undertaken by this trust with the money received from devotees. For example, during 2017 itself, the trust has spent Rs 33 lakhs on a senior citizens’ home at Kondhwa, and another Rs 2.98 crore for various activities in the Sassoon General Hospital, including food for poor patients and ward development. Rs 9 lakh was spent on medical facilities for warkaris on their annual pilgrimage from Dehu-Alandi to Pandharpur every year.

Much of the credit for this inspiring work goes to the late Prataprao Godse, who led the activities of this trust for many decades. Today, that work is carried out ably by the trust president Ashok Godse, treasurer Mahesh Suryavansh, festival committee head Hemant Rasne and secretary Manik Chavan.

For a number of years, the trust focused its attention on providing facilities at the Sassoon Hospital. This included erection of a kitchen in a 5,000 sq.ft. area, providing breakfast, tea and meals twice a day for 1,200 patients at the hospitals and organizing a proper guest house for the relatives of patients. The renovation of the maternity ward and providing nutritious food for the women there and funding the renovation of the ultra-modern ICU for newborns were among the other activities at the hospital.

The trust also adopted Pingori village, located 50 km from Pune city. The Maharashtra government appreciated the work undertaken and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis recently paid a visit to this village. The trust has been bearing the cost of education of 550 talented students from poor families. It runs a night college for poor students, and the trust also took up the construction of 12 homes for the farmers of Nimgaon Ketki village in Indapur Taluka who suffered extensive damage to their crops and property due to hailstones.

The planting of 50 lakh trees on the highways frequented by pilgrims, running an orphanage at Kondhwa for children of sex workers (Devdasis) and acting as the guardian of 25 children of families of waste-pickers are all done by this trust.

Recently, the trust undertook the de-silting of the Khadakwasla dam to increase water storing capacity. All of this. “We run a number of other activities such as ambulance facility, sports training, industrial training, e-learing, medical camps, apart from providing assistance at the time of natural disasters in the country. Our accounts are audited annually and details provided to all the donors,” said trustee Rasne.

Bharat Vikas Parishad’s Handicapped Rehabilitation Centre - Make a leg, change lives

(From Left) Vinay Khatavkar, Center Head, Vasudev Kalra, center manager, Sanjay Pingale chief technician at Bharat Vikas Parishad Handicap Rehabilitation Center, Erandvane in Pune (Pratham Gokhale/HT PHOTO)

Every morning, 41-year-old Sanjay Pingale commutes from Bibwewadi to Erandwane to reach the Bharat Vikas Parishad’s Handicapped Rehabilitation Centre artificial limb-making workstation. He works there as the main technician, sculpting calipers and artificial limbs for many amputees, in and across Maharashtra. These are then provided free of cost through different handicapped rehabilitation camps held in the city and the state.

Established in 1992, this centre has provided more than 7,000 artificial limbs and calipers to amputees, all free of cost. The commercial production cost per unit ranges from Rs.3000 to Rs.1 lakh, but at the centre, the cost of the most expensive artificial limb has been brought down to Rs.25,000 with the use of advanced technology.

Pingale was himself was a beneficiary of such a camp in the city, having travelled from Manchar, Ambegaon taluka. The artificial limb that he received gave him an entire new life. Having lost his right leg in a devastating accident, the milk-tanker driver lost his source of livelihood. But at the camp, he found both.

He was then sent to Ahmedabad and Hyderabad by the Bharat Vikas Parishad for technical training and he began working as one of the first technicians at the workstation.

“Back then, we had just begun the Pune branch. It was in 1992 and we had requested Indore branch to come to Pune with their team and set up a camp here. Sanjay was here as a beneficiary, and we saw promise in him. After adequate training, he became one the first to start and establish our workstation,” said Vinay Khatavkar, chairperson of the organisation’s Pune office.

Pingale told Hindustan Times: “My life was changed, not just because of the limb but the kind of work I am doing. This has allowed me to change many more lives through service, and I feel that is the biggest achievement of my life.”

Bharat Vikas Parishad, Pune is a non-profit organisation, that began in 1992, with the aim to spread the practice of social service in the society, and it’s Handicapped Rehabilitation Centre is an extension of the larger vision. Originally established in 1963 at Delhi, the parent organisation now has over 1600 branches across the nation, in all the states. In Maharashtra alone, the organisation has 40 branches, which spread the work of organising donation camps.

“Initially, patients and individuals would come up to the Pune office to get the artificial limbs or calipers. But, we soon realised that many more are missing out on this, because they can’t afford to travel from the interior parts of the state, to the city to collect these. So instead we decided to hold camps, at even the most interior rural areas, and deliver it to them,” shared Khatavkar.

Sharing his philosophy behind this work, Khatavkar said, “We don’t consider this to be some act of kindness. I feel it’s our duty towards the society. We are not helping them, we are just opening the door, for them to help themselves.”

Team Hindustan Times: Satyajit Joshi, Yogesh Joshi, Prachi Bari, Shalaka Shinde, Ashish Phadnis, Jui Dharwadkar, Shrinivas Deshpande, Anjali Shetty, Abhay Khairnar and Ananya Barua

First Published: Jul 24, 2017 15:31 IST