Dr. Mandakini Amte - Blue Print For Love
This article appears in this months' Me magazine published by DNA, Jagaran Group, and edited by Sathya Saran. Do buy a copy and read this inspiring article, among many others.
She is not a millionaire, but has treated a million. She is not a high profile socialite, yet when anyone falls ill in an area of 200 square kilometre that covers over 5 lakh people, the first two people they are likely to think of is her and her husband. She may not have the world at her feet, but she is the world to the lives she has saved in over three decades.
Drs. Manda and Prakash Amte (4th and 5th from right, sitting) with other Ramon Magsaysay award winners during the 2008 award ceremony.
Meet Dr. Mandakini Amte (popularly known as Dr. Manda), an unconventional woman, a original of her specie, and perhaps the only Indian along with her husband, another extraordinary human, Dr. Prakash Amte, to adorn the postage stamp of a foreign country, Monaco.
Drs. Manda and Prakash Amte at a lecture during the Ramon Magsaysay award ceremony.
BEGINNINGS: Third child to a teacher couple, Dr. Manda was born in Nagpur. After her basic education she did her MBBS from Nagpur Medical College. Then she did a one year diploma in Anesthesia. Here in 1972, while performing anaesthesia on a patient, she met a junior, who was performing surgery on the same patient. From this unlikely, chance encounter blossomed a love that would influence millions of lives. The man was Dr. Prakash Amte, son of famous social worker and activist Baba Amte. Little did she know on that fateful afternoon, that her destiny would forever be entwined with this mans’, who in 1970 after a visit to a inhospitable tribal area deep inside the jungles of Gadhchiroli district, 350 kms from Nagpur, and accepted his famed father’s invitation to open a rural healthcare centre because none existed in over 100 sq km area that covered Mahaharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and today, Chattisgarh. She would become his pillar of strength and support in this most extraordinary of place and mission.
A malnutritioned tribal child being given saline in the hospital.
MARRIAGE: Before all this, however, there was a bigger obstacle – marriage. Baba Amte was famous for his work on patients of leprosy, a disease seeped in superstition back then. It was not easy convincing her parents. But, on 24th December 1972, they got married in a simple ceremony. A year later, after the government approved 50 acres of land in the tribal hinterland, Dr. Prakash immediately moved in, leaving his M.D in surgery incomplete. 6 months later, in December 1974, Dr. Manda who was then doing a lecturers job in Nagpur Medical College, left and joined him and his team of volunteers.
A HARD LIFE: This was merely the beginning of one of the greatest and most rewarding ordeal a woman has had to face in the world. The camp in Hemalkasa, was so deep inside the jungle that it had neither electricity, nor even a road. The nearest road and ‘civilisation’ (shops, people living in houses, etc.) was 60 kms away. The only way to reach Hemalkasa was through clearings in the forest through which a vehicle barely managed to pass and often took an entire day. For six to seven month every year, during and after the monsoon the rising water in the 6 rivers leading to this place, cut it off from the rest of the world. Reminiscing those times she says, “I was bred in a city, Nagpur. But here was a place without road, electricity, toilet, water nearby or any other amenities we take for granted in a city. There wasn’t even any privacy for me and Prakash. For two years there was no woman to talk to till one volunteer married and brought his wife here. It was extremely difficult but there was the satisfaction of doing something no one had done before and that pulled us all through.”
AN UPHILL TASK: The tribals living in the forests, the Madia and Gond, knew no farming, and hardly had any interaction with the outside world. They ate almost anything that moved, birds, rats, crows, reptiles, red ants and wild animals and did not trust ‘outsiders’ - Lok Biradari Prakalp set up by Dr. Prakash, Dr. Manda and the volunteers included. Providing medical help to them wasn’t easy. Says Manda, “The tribals were extremely malnutritioned, believed in superstition rather than modern medicine and were exploited by hunters and forest officials. They were in need of medical help, but they did not trust us.”
Drs. Prakash and Manda treating a malnutritioned child.
CHANGE OF HEART: Over time, however, as the tribals grew more familiar with them and saw their dedication, their mindset changed. They became open to medical help after those who recovered from their treatment, became their ambassadors in their communities. Both Dr. Prakash and Dr. Manda treated the patients, but it was tougher for Dr. Manda as she also had to manage the house and her children as son Digant was born in 1975, Aniket in 1977 and daughter Arti in 1985. When you ask her today how she managed it all, she simply says, “Where was the time to think how to manage. It was so hectic, there was work all the time, there were patients coming night and day, the children to take care of, home to manage and animals to look after. There was simply no time to think or wonder. We just had to do.”
PEOPLE WHO COUNT: The speciality of people who truly count is that they are never busy counting. That is Dr. Manda for you who never weighs her sacrifice or her achievements. For over 20 years, theirs remained the only medical facility for over 100 square mile area that today covers the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh. Even today, despite many government healthcare centres the tribals trust them so much that they still come from as far as 200 kms for treatment. Ask her and she will recount tragic anecdotes: of how a tribal girl attacked by a wild animal walked alone 15km to the centre with her intestine wrapped outside in a cloth, and survived, of how during a cholera epidemic 30 out of 300 afflicted, did not.
THEY CAME, THEY SAW, THEY HELPED: It has not been easy for either Dr. Manda, her husband or the scores of volunteers who began or later joined them to work tirelessly without either financial help from the government or patients (the tribals had no concept of money). Yet they have carried on and inspired by their work, many strangers have come forward to help. Today their little community centre called ‘Lok Biradari Prakalp’ houses a Residential School providing education up to 12th standard (managed by her son Aniket), an animal rescue centre and orphanage (perhaps the only one of its kind for animals in the world), a vocational training centre and a bank. All of these were made possible by individual philanthropists or organisations who came, saw and were so moved, they promised to help and did. Ironically, the bulk of the financial help in the initial few decades of their work, came from foreign institutions and charities. In India most of the help has trickled through from individuals (many of them doctors who set up early camps or send medical supplies) across the country.
INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION: After having worked in literal anonymity for decades, the couples amazing work found the notice of many national and international agencies who bestowed them with awards and recognitions, the most prestigious being Asia’s highest honour, also called the Nobel Prize of Asia, which the couple received last year, the Ramon Magasssay Award for community leadership. Yet ask her what she thinks of them and she says, “The most important thing about awards is the money we receive, all of which goes into the hospital and tribal welfare. Besides this, it brings attention which draws people to see our work. They donate small and big sums and that is a great help.”
Dr. Prakash cuddles Rupa, the leopard, in their animal shelter, that houses scores of wild animals and is one of its kind in the world.
NO TIME FOR REST: Today, Dr. Manda, aged 63 despite an angioplasty behind her, continues to work tirelessly to relive the pain and suffering of a group of people neglected by the government and society. And helping her in the task, besides husband Dr. Prakash and a dedicated group of volunteers, are Dr. Digant, her eldest son Dr. Anagha - Digant’s wife, and Samiksha - Aniket’s wife. Yet, when you ask her what pleases her the most, she talks about the tribal students who have studied from the school in their project, and have returned to help their community. When you ask what she wishes to do more, she replies with a characteristic humility that comes only with true greatness, “I wish to educate every tribal woman because when you educate a woman, you educate an entire family and give culture and growth to the entire family. I wish to do that.”
Mother, wife, tireless doctor to half a million people for close to four decades, social worker, activist and educationist… Dr. Mandakani Amte is truly an extraordinary women and a true super model for women across the world.
YOUR HELP COUNTS: The extraordinary work done by the team in Hemalkasa, has been possible because of the help, financial and in terms of supply, committed by individuals from across the world. If you want to help, as a doctor, or a volunteer or want to see this amazing place by yourself, you can visit www.lokbiradariprakalp.org or call up +91 7134 220001. To donate, you can make a cheque or DD in the name of “Maharogi Sewa Samiti, Warora” and post it to: Lok Biradari Prakalp, Hemalkasa, Post: Bhamragad, Gadchiroli – 442710, Maharashtra. However, besides making donations, you can help by visiting the place, or if you are a doctor or an NGO, by providing medical supplies. Visit the website mentioned above to know more.