Odisha: With low-cost ambulance, farm lessons and helpline, an NGO wins hearts

In the country’s poorest district of Nabarangpur, a group of local youths have been touching lives in various ways, sometimes ferrying patients in an ambulance to hospitals in places as far as 500 km away.

Written by Debabrata Mohanty | Bhubaneswar | Updated: August 15, 2016 12:22 am
district zero, nabarangpur, odisha education, odisha health, odisha villages, poor odisha, odisha government goal, naveen patnaik, condition of odisha, development in odisha, odisha development, odisha news, odisha agriculture, indian express news, indian express district zero, india news A hearse van outside the Govindalaya headquarters. Source: Debabrata Mohanty

# Seven months ago, a Dalit man was found hanging from a tree in a village in Nabarangpur. No one was ready to bring the rotting body down until activists of Govindalaya, an NGO, took it for postmortem.

# Last July, three tribals of Papadahandi block were struck dead by lightning. After postmortem, their bodies couldn’t be taken back to their village as the hearse van in the hospital was not functional. Govindalaya stepped in with its own hearse van.

# D Vinay Kumar, 18, studies information technology in a local degree college. His father, a tailor, cannot afford to buy him a computer and Vinay used to face a scramble at his college, which has one computer for every five students. Since June, he has been attending a three-month course at a computer centre run by Govindalaya, paying only Rs 375.

In the country’s poorest district of Nabarangpur, a group of local youths have been touching lives in various ways, sometimes ferrying patients in an ambulance to hospitals in places as far as 500 km away. Govindalaya is a public trust that rents out its hearse van and ambulance, runs a computer education centre, trains farmers and runs a blood bank helpline in a district where blood is always in short supply.

“Our mission is to bring about developmental changes that will help people in KBK [Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput] live healthier, more productive lives,” said founder chairman Shanmuga Patro, a lawyer who has practised in the Supreme Court and high courts.

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With 12 full-time employees, 52 local volunteers and more than 30 professionals in various parts of the world, the trust has been surviving on individual donations and the philanthropy of IT majors such as Infosys, which donated computer hardware for a 20-seat computer centre in Nabarangpur town.

More than anything else, it is the ambulance and hearse services that have won it the goodwill of locals. It charges just Rs 500. The hearse van in the district headquarters hospital is defunct while the ambulance there does not move out in the evening. “Transporting bodies is a big headache here. Govindalaya is a huge help,” said Ramesh Bisoi, inspector with Nabarangpur police.

“Even if it’s raining and we get a call in the dead of night, we go,” said ambulance driver Nityanand Das. Till date, the trust has transported over 500 patients and 300 bodies to and from various hospitals and accident sites.

Govindalaya’s executive trustee Rakesh Gupta recounts how the hearse service came into being. Twelve years ago, a couple from Andhra Pradesh who had come to Nabarangpur lost their son to illness. “They sought help from everyone to carry the body back home. I spoke to a local vehicle owner who asked for Rs 20,000. The couple did not have that much. Tearfully, they buried their son here. That gave me a cause for starting a reasonable hearse van service,” said Gupta.

Read | What has changed, what has not: Odisha government takes stock, plans to continue till goals are reached

The NGO’s 20-seat computer centre is recognised by NIELIT. It charges between Rs 720 and Rs 2,250 for various computer courses spanning three months to 1 year. It has tied up with IIT Bombay for online courses on Unix, Linux, Database Design, 3D animation, C and C++. So far 210 students have passed out.

At its ‘farmers’ school’, Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology has been conducting training and demonstrations in agriculture and horticulture practices.

The NGO’s biggest dream is, however, still taking shape. It is in the process of setting up an old-age home for 100 on a 31-acre patch of land in Soruguda village.

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