The Sunderbans are known for its tiger reserves and unique beauty. But what’s also rampant in the area is poverty – no good roads or clean, drinking water, and poor food supplies forcing residents to eat weed grown in the village ponds.
We parked the car a kilometer or so before a bridge that connects to the neighbouring village and walked to it. We walked along brick laden roads as we passed ponds with filthy water and a few dusty shops. As I walked further inside, I saw an old man sitting outside his hut, bare chested, talking to his daughter who was carrying a baby.
He greeted me with a ” Namoskar” in Bengali and offered me a chair to sit on. I soon learnt, with the help of the NGO staff acting as a translator, that the old man was Chakraborthy. His daughter had given birth at Sabuj Sangha’s health care center.
I was curious to how they managed before the center started, to which he shared, “We used to go the local doctors in the village. To earn money, they used to prescribe medicines and sell the same to us at a higher price. We had no other option but to go there. We didn’t have buses or any kind of other conveyance to reach the place. It was difficult especially during medical emergencies. One day, a woman approached me and told me about the new health center and its services. I first went myself to check it out as I was skeptical – why would anyone offer services for free? But I knew we needed better healthcare than our local doctors. I admitted my daughter there for her delivery. She was taken care of so well. They gave her good food, medicines at a subsidized rate and also a bed for me to stay overnight. The doctor visited every day to check on the mother and the baby.”
I was moved by the revere in his tone. I noticed that his eyes had become moist too. His daughter then got her baby outside, who looked healthy and active. I thanked them and moved on.
En route to the city, we stopped at the college – a two storey building with red and white paint. Here I met Rajesh and Sujan, who are in class 5 and 7 respectively. Before they joined this model school, they were child laborers in Kolkata. The organization identified them and brought them to the residential school. They live in the hostel behind the school, along with other children who were once pick pocketers, rag pickers etc.
We then headed to the center in Dakshin Barasat in South 24 Parganas district. Located on the coastal side, the center teaches 200 children from the government school daily.
These children are selected after a background check by community development leaders of the village.
As I entered the center, I found a group of five children sitting with their teacher, in serious discussion. I soon learnt that this was a child core group meeting, which is held every 15 days. Every year, a child core group is formed at the center based on the chidrens’ speaking skills, attendance etc. These kids are put in charge of reporting problems on behalf of the other kids.
Working on different ways to bring holistic development to the area, Sabuj Sangha is a savior to these people in the islands who have given up hope of a decent life. “We don’t fear or worry much now. We know they are around us,” adds one of the villagers.