Near Vasant Kunj’s ‘Green Avenue’, shielding residences of Delhi’s super elite, Veeresh Malik discovers one man’s mission to save the destitute
The people at the tea stall, where I stopped to ask for directions, give me an indication—everybody knows where The Earth Saviour’s Foundation (TESF) is located.
As I park my car next to brilliantly manicured green lawns, I notice some temporary shelters housing about four dozen elderly people and a couple of hundred young children in school uniforms, on the other side under tents—it is all about the circle of life. Suddenly it strikes you—the balance between the young and evolving next to the old and fading away. These are abandoned, destitute, mentally-challenged elderly people rescued from the mean streets of life who will, in all probability, leave the premises only on their final journey. The young children, some of them also rescued from the same mean streets, will hopefully move on to make something of their lives. Both sets are bound by an important element they find at the shelter—respect. And that is what makes TESF different.
There is something so natural about this simple balance of the young and the old that TESF’s other activities, more on the ‘environmental’ side, also fit into a natural whole. In a brief four years of operations, TESF has grown phenomenally; its website lists a series of activities—from rescuing destitute women, to anti-noise pollution to working towards controlling fire-crackers to responding to the needs of providing decent funerals to unclaimed dead to promoting electric cremations, TESF seems to have taken multi-tasking forward in a sector which often gets stuck on one specific function.
Ravi Kalra, the man behind this pro-humanity drive, has certainly had a chequered life. Son of a police officer, he cut his own path, teaching martial arts to the uniformed forces. He then dabbled in a variety of businesses in which he reportedly did well, but a major turning point came when it all collapsed. Recovering from this setback, he revived his martial arts into a successful venture, but again, decided to hand it over to his brother and focus on trying to give something back to society.
Initially, he worked on rescuing the elderly abandoned in and around Delhi. Some of the stories he relates—of elderly parents being thrown into the streets, of unwell siblings abandoned outside hospitals, of people incapable of looking after themselves, of handling funerals—are simply mind-boggling. Soon he realised that there was a major problem with street children too and started working on that as well.
Essentially, TESF, set up in 2008, rescues the young and the old from the streets, cleans them up, provides basic medical assistance, gives them food and shelter for the rest of their lives and, eventually, ensures they get a dignified funeral (Mr Kalra also helps cremate hundreds of unclaimed bodies). The children are a mix of street and impoverished neighbourhood children, who are provided day-school facilities till about pre-puberty.
TESF has four ambulances, plenty of computers to put order into their activities and I watched bags full of old clothes being sorted out. TESF was started with Mr Kalra’s personal funds; your donations to it will be eligible for tax exemption under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act. However, what Mr Kalra would really want from people is more volunteering. He wishes that people would just come to meet the abandoned elderly since many of them still crave for their family.
Getting like-minded people on board is a challenge, and it is his hope to some time build a ‘pukka’ construction. The basic philosophy is simple—‘do what you can, don't expect to change or improve matters too much, and certainly concentrate on the effort, the results will follow’. If you like the thought, do go out and volunteer. All that is asked of you is friendship and empathy!
The Earth Saviour’s Foundation
34, Green Avenue Road,
(near D Block Church) Vasant Kunj,
New Delhi - 110070
Ravi Kalra: Founder & President 91-9818171695
firstname.lastname@example.org | www.earthsaviours.in
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Dr Nita Mukherjee finds a unique community eye bank in Jaipur
It was a seminar organised in 2001 by the Eye Bank Association (Delhi) and LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI, Hyderabad) in Jaipur that triggered the foundation of the Eye Bank Society of Rajasthan (EBSR). The seminar sought to promote eye donation in India to combat the scourge of blindness.
Among those who attended was one of the current members of EBSR, Bhavna Jagwani, who temporarily lost her eyesight and realised how cruel life could be without vision. She persuaded others to contribute to the setting up of ESBR. Unlike most eye banks set up at hospitals, EBSR was unique from inception—it was founded by social activists; there was no doctor involved. It was registered under the Societies Registration Act on 6 February 2002 with 10 founder members. Today, EBSR has 100 members; some 25-30 of them are active volunteers. ML Mehta is currently the president. The objective of EBSR is to promote eye donation in Rajasthan and run a community eye bank. Its success can be gauged from the fact that in its first year, it harvested 76 corneas; in its 10th year, this number has reached 1,000.
What distinguishes EBSR from other eye banks is that it does not depend only on pledging of eyes; it concentrates on hospital cornea retrieval programme as well. Explains Ashok Bhandari, honorary secretary of EBSR: “The process of cornea harvesting has to be completed within six to eight hours of death and takes just 15 minutes so there is no delay in funeral rites. For this, effective coordination is necessary between EBSR’s volunteers and technicians and the medical, nursing and para-medical staff of hospitals. Training volunteers and sustained counselling is crucial.”
Mr Bhandari explains passionately the need to popularise cornea donation. For each person that donates eyes, vision can be restored for two people as only one cornea is grafted on one person. ‘Grief counsellors’ play the delicate and crucial role of speaking to the critically ill patients admitted to hospitals to assuage their fears, and often, irrational anxieties. The six-week training of grief counsellors at LVPEI costs Rs20,000. “Our technicians are well-trained to remove only the cornea, not the complete eyeball; so there is no disfigurement of the body.”
EBSR is a fine blend of volunteerism and professional management. Far from taking any kind of honorarium from the organisation, volunteers not only contribute their time but also don’t take reimbursement of expenses. “More than funding, we need younger volunteers so that outreach can be enhanced. Currently, most of our volunteers are retired people looking to do meaningful social work,” says Shirish Mody, honorary joint secretary EBSR in charge of awareness programmes. While the ‘medical’ part of the work is handled by technicians, the most time- and energy-consuming part of the eye bank is extension and communication work.
EBSR conducts some 50-60 awareness camps in a year—the maximum during the World Cornea Donation fortnight celebrated annually between 25th August and 8th September. Until now, some 500 awareness camps have been held. Volunteers are armed with a CD containing a PowerPoint presentation on all the frequently asked questions by potential eye donors.
EBSR has so far harvested 4,500 corneas; 3,000 have been implanted. All harvested corneas are first tested at the EBSR laboratory for all health parameters; they are used only if found 100% fit. Those not used for implanting are donated to medical colleges for teaching and demonstration purposes. Initially, LVPEI gave the necessary technical guidance and set up the standard operating procedures. So impressed was Orbis International (USA), a partner of EBSR, that it financed the entire world-class equipment for EBSR’s laboratory. Today, EBSR is among the first 10 Indian eye banks to get an affiliation with the SightLife Society of Seattle (USA) which sets world standards in eye donation.
Donations to EBSR are tax-exempt under Section 80G; the organisation welcomes young
Eye Bank Society of Rajasthan
429, Adarsh Nagar, Bees Dukan,
Near Geeta Bhawan,
Phone: +91 41- 2604117,