Dr. Schweitzer's Hospital Fund (UK)

Baba AmteBaba Amte and Anandwan (India)

Since 1995 the British Fund has been supporting projects in India managed by the 'Maharogi Sewa Samiti of Warora. This association was created with the goal of directing projects started by Baba Amte to aid lepers, the physically handicapped and ethnic minorities. The Dr Schweitzer Hospital Fund was introduced to this association through the work of the Swiss organisation Nouvelle Planete. They annually send groups of young people to help out in many parts of the developing world and are engaged in aid projects in some 23 different countries in Africa, Asia and South America.

It has been said of Baba Amte that he is 'a true Indian Albert Schweitzer', for he gave up his titles of Lawyer and Mayor the day he came face to face with a leper in agony on the roadside.

In reply to the question 'Why are you taking up this dirty work?' he said "I took up leprosy work because I wanted to crucify the recurring question - why those eyes that saw beauty in the Acropolis and Fatepur Sikri saw only repulsion in a leprosy victim? It hurled a challenge at my life. I had never been frightened of anything……. Ghandhji called me 'abhay sadhat'(fearless one). But this person who fought thugs and British Bandits, quivered in fear when he saw the living corpse of the leper Tulsiram. No fingers, no clothes, with maggots all over. That is when I took up leprosy work. Not to help anyone but to overcome that fear in my life."

From that day, starting from nothing, he began to create the village hospital of Anandwan, situated 200km South of Nagpur in Maharastra, Central India. Today the village spreads over 200 hectares and has 3000 inhabitants, predominately lepers and handicapped people. Its satellite communities of Somnath and Hemalkasa, together with numerous sub-centres, support another 2000 people. These communities have become nearly self sufficient at a subsistence level, through agriculture, reviving the lands fertility using entirely organic farming techniques and micro-water management as well as developing a varied light industry section which generates enough income to buy food and other resources which they cannot themselves produce.

The first project, which came to the Fund's attention, was for a health care centre in the village of Somnath. Somnath was created by lepers who have undergone treatment in Anandwan. They have built a community in which they can live 'normal' lives away from the prejudiced eyes of society. Their way of life is mainly agricultural and it is thanks to them that the people of Anandwan have rice and can be nutritionally self-sufficient. A health care centre was seen as necessary in order to deliver regular health care to the lepers who although cured remain in need of frequent attention for their disabled limbs. The UK Fund supported this project over two years and heard in November 1997 that it was complete.

In the summer of 1998 the Fund's Chairman Percy Mark stayed in Anandwan for 3 weeks, together with a Nouvelle Planete youth group from Switzerland and experienced for himself at first hand the unusually profound work, which is taking place there. It is an outstanding example of the implementation of "Reference for Life", second to none.

In a country where leprosy is still wide spread and a complete taboo, it has been possible to create a community of lepers, who are looking after the blind, the deaf and the dumb. They teach crafts to teenagers, who have failed in the school system, as well as supporting themselves with the produce of their own hands and cultivate the largely infertile lands which have been placed at their disposal.

All property is under common ownership and all produce is shared. In full awareness of the wider environmental problems facing the global community all farming and husbandry is organic. Construction methods are carefully designed to minimise the use of wood and reduce embodied energy consumption. All waste products are recycled, water conservation projects, tree planting schemes, preservation of endangered species and injured or distressed animals are integral parts of the overall program.

Baba Amte, now in his eighties, has passed the management of the whole enterprise to his two sons, who are both doctors, are both married to doctors and whose children are studying medicine; and all operate under the umbrella of the MSS Trust.

Baba Amte himself has for the last decade been engaged in fighting the cause of tribal communities who are threatened by large internationally financed dams, which are designed to flood their habitats.

During the last four years the UK Fund has helped finance the construction of teaching space for craft training for teenagers, and residential accommodation for the elderly and infirm, who, as the community enters its second half century, make up an increasing proportion of the total population.

For more information:e-mail: anandwan@nagpur.dot.net.in.

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