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Winning a lost battle

With confidence and a warm attitude,Alexa Renee had more to talk about than just about cheerfully coloured streets and diversity of the highest order.

After a month-long volunteering initiative at the villages of Melghat,four students from the US share their experiences of looking at life the harder way

With confidence and a warm attitude,Alexa Renee had more to talk about than just about cheerfully coloured streets and diversity of the highest order. In her past month in India,Alexa,along with her three team mates,Grant Knopoh,Elizabeth Ann and Daniel Read,spent a month in the villages of Melghat. Each one of them tried to figure out the best way to extend a helping hand,a caring shoulder and a plausible solution to the troubles of the villagers.

The team from the Associates College of Midwest,along with Maitryee,an NGO that has been working for over 12 years in the region,volunteered to work towards the cause of the people of this region. Melghat,located in the northern part of Amravati district,though endowed with nature’s beauty and bounty,sees an acute shortage of food and ineffective health facilities. While the area itself has several stories to share,it is the influence that man has had on the region that precisely generates both angst and disappointment.

Talking about her decision to take up such a task,Elizabeth says,“None of us took this up as an academic exercise; in fact,we are not even getting a credit for this. I came to this region to see for myself how academic theories help people in everyday life. And this experience has been incredibly valuable.” So while Elizabeth and Grant moved across six different villages trying to perceive their problems,it was the spirit of the people that made the biggest impression on them. “I have never seen more hardworking people,” says Alexa. “And most of them are children and women,who walk miles to just procure the basic necessities of life,” she adds.

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The team conducted general health surveys,studied the role of the civic bodies,health institutions in the region and educational facilities that exist there. Commenting on the role of civic authorities,Grant says,“When we asked the village population what they expect of the authorities,they simply couldn’t perceive a government body that could and would actually help them.”

The surveys were basically conducted around the villages of Khari,Bordah and Chilati,and the team realised that education would help put an end to the woes of the natives. “The condition of the schools is another area of concern. In fact,we learned that only five schools were operational for around 28 villages,” says Alexa,who initiated a lot of child healthcare projects. Interestingly,language did not come in the way of this young team’s wish to connect with the villagers. With the help of interpreters,who were volunteers at Maitryee,they managed to communicate rather easily.

Though Melghat is known for the Save Tiger project,which is under the aegis of the government,the tribals here are still facing a lot of problems. “The forest officials who I met came across as people who didn’t care about the Save Tiger project or the Korkus,” shares Read. However,the American,who is studying Anthropology at the University of Minisotta,found something quite incredible. “I studied the Korkus and found that this group of people had been largely exploited,so it took time for them to open up. But I realised that despite the problems that they face,they are amongst the happiest people I have ever seen,even happier than people in the cities,in the United States or anywhere in the world,” he says,visibly amazed.

First published on: 31-07-2010 at 04:33 IST
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