For the past three decades, Dr Prakash Amte and his wife, Dr Mandakini Amte, have rarely stepped out of their tribal village, Hemalkasa, deep inside the dense forests of central India. Such is their commitment for the People’s Brotherhood tribal community development project they started at Hemalkasa in 1973.
So we at Asha NYC/NJ were excited to host them in New York City on the 27th of July, 2003. The couple shared fascinating stories from their life in the forests in an informal tete-a-tete with twenty attendees. Dr Amte, son of the legendary Baba Amte, and Dr Manda Amte are currently on a month-long tour of the US and Canada.
The event started with a 45- minute video presentation on the beginnings of the project and it’s work. The audience was stunned by the couple’s stupendous achievement in the most adverse conditions imaginable.
It all began 30 years ago when the Amtes went on a family picnic to the Dandakarnaya forests of Maharashtra, India and saw the plight of the Madia Gond tribals in that region. The Gonds were illiterate and malnourished, living on a diet of dried leaves and live ants. Leprosy, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were rampant but untreated. The Amtes were deeply moved by what they saw. Dr Prakash Amte discontinued his post-graduate studies and Dr Mandakini Amte quit her government job and together they returned to Hemalkasa. They built a small hut for themselves and a bigger one for their patients and began their medical practice.
“The tribals were very suspicious at first and ran away whenever we approached them”, said Dr. Amte, but when a badly burned epileptic patient I treated recovered completely, they began to trust me. Today the project has a 40- bed hospital with 4 doctors that treat 40,000 patients each year. There is also a school for 500 children. Students from the school have gone on to become policemen, forest officers and even doctors. The project volunteers have trained the tribals to cultivate forest land to grow cereals, pulses and vegetables, so they now have a nutritious diet. Life expectancy has increased and infant mortality had gone down. And that’s not all. The Amtes also have an animal orphanage housing a lion, leopards, snakes and alligators! “We love all animals and they respond to love”, said Dr. Amte.
Over the years the project has received outside help. Much of this is from the parent organization Maharogi Sewa Samiti. Swissaid Abroad and Oxfam are the major supporting organizations, and Asha supported them in 2002. The volunteer base continues to expand. Students educated at the school and then at colleges outside are returning as volunteers. The Amtes’ sons, Digant and Aniket, both doctors, have also embraced the cause. Dr Manda Amte proudly announced Digant’s engagement to a doctor who will also move to the project after marriage.
“Any message to us youngsters?” was the final question from the audience. “I don’t give messages”, replied Dr Amte. That’s Dr Amte for you, a doer who lets his work speak for him.
For more information on their project, visit: http://www.fearlessminds.org/hemalkasa.html
Or e-mail Aniket Amte at firstname.lastname@example.org