Helen Eveleigh (19 Oct 2011)
If you’re looking for somewhere in India really worthwhile to volunteer or you just want your faith in humankind restored then I’d suggest you visit Anandwan for a few days, weeks or months.
I found out about the project from a Belgian girl. She told me about the great work they did turning the rubbish from nearby villages into saleable products. As I’ve worked in environmental projects and despaired at the layer of plastic waste that covers much of India this was somewhere I wanted to see.
It was very easy to arrange my visit. I simply emailed anandwan and within a few days had a response saying please come. There were no hidden costs, the only charge for staying was a minimal contribution to cover food and accommodation. All I had to do was book my train ticket to Warora and call Mr Prabhu to confirm accommodation would be available.
When I arrived a month later Mr Prabhu was there to show me my room, which overlooked a beautiful garden courtyard. He also loaned me some books on Baba Amte so I could start to understand more about this amazing project. After a delicious Indian lunch Mr Prabhu also gave me a tour of the whole site. I saw and learnt about how the land had been reclaimed, the hospital’s work, the many and varied workshops, the nature reserve, schools and playschools.
My original plan had been to spend a few days volunteering in one of these projects but the next day a community group from Mumbai which raises money for Anandwan arrived. They were spending a few days touring the wider projects and invited me to join them.
We spent three days travelling between Lok Biradari Prakalp (LBP) and Somnath, which gave me plenty of time to learn a little Marathi, find out more about Anandwan and make new friends. My favourite place was the LBP. It was incredible to see how much has been achieved by Dr Prakash and his family in supporting both the development and welfare of the Madia-Gonds, one of India's primal tribes, as well as the protecting the jungle animals. Located deep in the jungle this provides much needed medical support and education alongside promoting environmental awareness. Although they now have electricity, good road access, a school and hospital it’s easy to picture what a struggle it must have been to establish this in such a remote location.
Somnath is also worth visiting if you can. With 1,250 acres it produces much of the food for MSS. Every summer it is also home to youth summer camps which seek to develop a positive work culture, national unity, environmental awareness and technical skills. As with both Anandwan and LBP the food was nourishing and accommodation clean and comfortable. If you get a chance to visit these projects you should certainly take it up.
I was also lucky enough to be treated to a magical performance by Swaranandwan, Anandwan’s orchestra community members showcase their talents, enabling them to build their own self value as well as changing people's perceptions about those afflicted with leprosy, blindness and other disabilities.
Overall the family made me feel very welcome, with Dr Vikas, Dr Prakash, Sadhana Amte (Baba’s widow) and Mr Prabhu all making time to talk with me. But maybe the best part was all the beautiful smiles shared with the Anandwan residents. They will stay with me a long time.
Anandwan is a really special place, go visit it if you get the chance. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time or practical skills to help this truly inspiring and deserving project.
Helen Eveleigh is a specialist in sustainable built environment, most recently working as a policy advisor for the Sustainable Development Commission, advisors to the UK Government on sustainable development.
She is a former judge of the British Urban Regeneration Association's awards in Best Practice in Regeneration and Community Inspired Regeneration.
She holds MA Urban Regeneration (distinction) and BA Social Policy