by Rohini Vemuganti
SAMUHA which means an organized group or society was founded by Mr. Pradeep in the year 1987. Pradeep who was a journalist by profession was an employee at ActionAi,d which is an anti-poverty agency working in Indian rural areas since 1972. SAMUHA then began as an ActionAid project in the year 1987. Being an international donor organization for development programs, it could not start a project directly due to Indian norms, and hence it partnered with SAMUHA to carry out the work needed. SAMUHA was completely funded by ActionAid then.
Actionaid sent Pradeep to Deodurga Taluk area, Raichur. Deodurga was really backward then with a literacy rate of less than 8% and health issues like Polio, Brittle bones etc. He selected 24 villages across Raichur to carry out the projects for meeting the needs of reducing illiteracy and eradicating Polio. They chose health and education as their primary focus.
As Pradeep began to interact with localities in Deodurga, he observed every time it was a different group of individuals and there wasn’t any structure or hierarchy. This lead to the formation of community development groups wherein individuals from different genders and hierarchies were selected and guided to lead the process of improving the community.
“It was not an easy process. Villagers did not like a foreign person interfering in their activities and creating groups. I had to sit with them for days long and explain the cause of my move. They gave in slowly. Once we started the process of establishing schools and health camps, we gained their trust.”
Education was the flagship program of SAMUHA. They established schools named ‘Bal Kendra’ across various villages in Raichur where not just children but even their mothers benefitted. SAMUHA identified women who were passionate to learn and teach. They trained these women to become teachers. They were then given an opportunity to teach in Bal Kendras. Along with this, various health camps were conducted to create awareness on Polio, immunization, and vaccination. SAMUHA provided volunteers vaccinations in these villages.
“People used to run away with their kids thinking we were doing something alien. They did not know what a vaccination is. The minute they saw a van, they used to lock themselves inside or never turn up for Pulse Polio drops. Such was the awareness back then,” says Pradeep.
SAMUHA’s work reached a different horizon altogether when the government of Karnataka approached Pradeep in the year 1989 to do a pilot study for identifying children with disability. Pradeep consented and soon became the member of a state advisory board for channelizing integrated education of the disabled. During this process, he came across kids and also adults who were suffering from various stages of Polio due to which they were restricted from schools, unemployed, and even dependent on others. As the list of the survey emerged out after the study, the file was closed and the government never helped in meeting the needs nor followed up.
SAMUHA was already working in these villages where the pilot study took place. Pradeep wanted to take this forward and help these disabled people with their needs. He then started a rehabilitation program and withdrew from education as the government school came up by then. In the year 1989, SAMUHA became an independent organization.
In the words of Paulo Coelho, “If a person really desires something, the whole universe conspires to help that person achieve it.” This was true for Pradeep when volunteers started coming in from Action Health to assist him with the program. He did not have any resources to manage the program which is when he approached the founder of Association for Physical Disability (APD) Bengaluru, Ms. Hema, who gave him an exposure to disability and also helped him by supplying mobility aids and other equipment needed in rehabilitation. Hema still contributes actively to the growth of the organization and is also one of the board members of SAMUHA. He also got help from Action Health volunteers across the globe to help him with rehabilitation, conducting surveys, interventions etc.
“Few other NGOs which were working on different causes in Karnataka were really supportive and they sent their own employees to volunteer and also to learn.” Narayanswamy who is the director of the disability program joined SAMUHA in a similar way. “He was sent by an organization to help us with the disability program. He worked with us for a few months and later joined full time.” As the need rose so did the projects, which lead to the establishment of ‘SAMARTHYA,’ SAMUHA’s disability resource center located at Koppal, North Karnataka.
SAMARTHYA, which translates into ‘potential’ in Sanskrit, is a Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) center which was initiated in the year 1987. It is currently head by Mr. Hampanna, who has been working with the organization for more than 10 years now. Mr. Hampanna has a background in Sociology and worked for various disability NGOs before joining SAMUHA. He played a major role in establishing a mobility aid manufacturing center at the Koppal campus.
SAMARTHYA’s prime focus is community participation. It plays a transformative role in improving the mobility of a Person with Disability (PWDs) by providing crutches, tricycles, wheel chairs etc. “We get funded by donors and partially from SAMUHA Overseas Development Association (SODA), ”adds Mr. Hampanna. SAMARTHYA’s program has helped PWDs with functional ability and integration, opportunities to access education, training and employment along with normal able people, integration into the larger community as independent member, and opportunities to become active members and contributors to their local community.
“By far the greatest prevalence of disability in the project areas is locomotors disability. Apart from early identification, very often, it was found that fitting of an orthotic/prosthetic device would greatly enhance the functional ability of the PWDs. But workshop facilities were located almost 500 kms away from these areas. Hence SAMARTHYA established the disability clinics and workshops. Disability clinics help in early identification and form a base point for therapy, home based interventions, skill transfer to the parents, medical and surgical interventions. Disability workshops presently cater to 350 PWDs through the provision of new aids and appliances as well as ear moulds and repair of the same”
SAMARTHYA prides in the efficiency of its staff, most of whom are locals and disabled themselves. It is also a nodal center for the Bangalore University Diploma in CBR programmes. Disability training programmes are taken up every year to train PWDs who want to become disability workers.
Pradeep says “Being a journalist, I was taught how to read, write and present them to the readers without being biased so that readers can come to a conclusion themselves. I believe it reflects in SAMUHA’s work now in terms of resources and promise of development.”
A PWDs journey from walking with a stick and unemployed to walking with a file and earning in the family, from dependency to helping other PWDs, emotional trauma to being an emotional support for others, SAMUHA has definitely continuing to be a key for transformation in People With Disabilities lives.