Life   Exclusive
Against All Odds

The Challenging Ones inspires physically challenged people to shine in sports and adventure, finds Alekh Angre

In 1999, Major Devender Pal Singh (now retired) lost his right leg in a mortar bomb explosion in the thick of Operation Vijay, better known as the Kargil War. On reaching the hospital, he was initially declared dead, but an anaesthetist managed to revive him. Although he survived, Major Singh’s right leg had to be amputated due to gangrene. Typical of a war hero, Major Singh was determined to live a normal life. He got himself a prosthetic leg at the Artificial Limb Centre, Pune and worked doggedly to overcome his disability and do more. He decided to take part in a car rally but couldn’t find sponsors because of his disability. The rejection by sponsors only made him more determined and he decided to focus on running. Ten years after Kargil, he participated in the Delhi half marathon (2009). “The rejection was a catalyst to prove myself. I completed the race in 3hours 40mins,” he says, proudly. Since then Major Singh has completed five half marathons and earned recognition as India’s ‘Blade Runner’.

But not everybody has Major Singh’s steely determination and will power. Many find it difficult to deal with disability. It is to help them that Major Singh, along with Major Bimal Mehra (retd), founded The Challenging Ones (TCO). TCO started as a Facebook page in 2011 with the idea of motivating those who are physically challenged—he prefers to call them ‘Challengers’—to overcome their limitations and train them to participate in sports & adventure activities.

TCO is now registered as a non-government organisation (NGO) under the Indian Trusts Act. Its core group comprises experts in orthopaedics and prosthetics. 
TCO has three core activities. One, it provides a discussion platform for prosthetics, creating awareness on basics like how to wear the limbs, how to perform physical activities such as running, driving, etc. It also connects them with prosthetic experts to receive technical support and guidance.

Two, TCO offers a peer support system for people using prosthetics and for their families since accidents that force people to undergo amputation cause trauma to the entire family. Often, family members don’t know how to deal with the situation. “The Challengers take it upon themselves to meet and guide fresh amputees and their family on how to deal with the unforeseen situation. It has better impact than help that is provided by able-bodied persons,” explains Major Singh, who is now employed with a bank and works with TCO in his spare time.  

Finally, TCO wants Challengers to participate in sports and adventure activities. “Our ultimate aim is to train more Challengers to help them win medals for India in the Paralympics,” says Major Singh.

So far, apart from regular workshops and talks (including the ones at Goa and Pune) to help and guide people, TCO has helped 12 amputees to participate in a 6km event at the Airtel-sponsored Delhi half marathon. It has also motivated five challengers, including a five-year old (who lost a limb due to a congenital disease) to participate in a Terry Fox Run at Chandigarh to raise funds for cancer research. At an individual level, TCO supported and sponsored Neeraj George (whose left leg was amputated due to bone tumour) to participate in the 2nd French International Para Badminton tournament at Rodez, France in 2012. Neeraj won a gold medal for India in the doubles event.

TCO’s online presence helps it reach out to many who want to take up the challenge of living a normal life. It had received monetary support from an organisation and individuals, but the big chunk of its fund-raising happens through the talks that it conducts. TCO also plans to assist a few companies to set up state-of-the-art limb centres across India. Currently, Major Singh is working hard to get the insurance industry to extend cover for a better quality of prosthetic equipment which is expensive but allows better mobility and higher activity levels.

TCO has volunteers in various cities. You can volunteer for TCO’s activities by arranging motivational talks for the physically challenged. You can also make financial donations. TCO is awaiting exemption under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act

The Challenging Ones
A/ 53, Sector 36, Noida (UP) 201301
Mobile: 9650960322 / 9999319942
Email: [email protected]

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    Life   Exclusive
    All waste is not waste

    An autonomous enterprise, SWaCH provides front-end waste management services, Savita Narayan reports

    SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling)—the institutional outcome of the trade union Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat—is authorised by the Pune Municipal Corporation to manage waste right from collection at the door-step to sustainable solid waste management. It effectively merges the interests of the waste-picker in increasing livelihood, the household in waste disposal and the municipality in waste management. SWaCH is India’s first wholly-owned cooperative of self employed waste-pickers and other urban poor.

    About 3,000 waste-pickers from SWaCH reach 0.25 million Pune households every day. Organic, kitchen waste is composted (70%), waste-pickers sell plastic, paper, etc as scrap (15%) and the remainder is sent to the landfill at Urali (15%). “In 2000, Municipal Solid Waste Rules came into force due to plague in Surat and the perseverance of RTI activists. Municipalities were bound to manage waste. In Pune, putting thousands of existing waste-pickers out of a job was not considered the solution. They need flexible timings due to family commitments. Our model ensures that women have ownership of the waste. The family segregates it and gets paid daily. If we privatise, households will go without pay while the private collector gets paid by the tonne,” says Malati Gadgil, CEO, SWaCH.

    SWaCH believes the waste-picker must be co-opted into the process, not removed from it. She will work only when it’s worth her while—earning from user fees and the sale proceeds of waste. SWaCH ensures receipt of user fee from households and regularises her attendance. Waste-pickers reduce the burden on the municipality; lessen transportation, land filling and disposal costs. However, waste-pickers figure very low on the social scale and face brutality by the police and the public. Nearly 95% are illiterate; many are from dysfunctional homes. They garner skills and knowledge to earn minimum rates.

    Low mobility workers such as the elderly and mothers of infants can supplement their income by selling second-hand clothes in vastis. In 1989, SWaCH organised the waste- pickers, providing a photo ID that offered them much-needed dignity and authorisation. SWaCH has held sensitivity classes for the police. The Jana Arogya policy offers medical coverage up to Rs5,000. An LIC policy, partly paid for by the waste-pickers, is available. The education of waste-pickers’ children is important. SWaCH does not condone school-age children picking waste. The photo passes of mothers are confiscated for non-compliance. “It’s an uphill task generating awareness that child labour is unacceptable when even movies like Kahaani glorify it,” says Malati Gadgil.

    Waste-pickers want their children to study. The trade union offers scholarships, pays for books and has a free loan scheme for higher education. E-waste management rules of 2011 specify the way in which potentially extremely hazardous substances are to be handled. SWaCH offers training in collection, sorting and some dismantling of such waste which fetches additional income. The Pune model works with the participation of waste-pickers, SWaCH, citizens and the municipality nagar sevak. The waste-picker puts back about 5% of the user fee into SWaCH, which also raises funds independently. The municipality pays for semi-formal staff in SWaCH and for equipment: push carts, buckets, coats, I-cards.

    SWaCH imparts training such as driving tempos and cycles, and holds  song workshops, English speaking classes and yoga. Waste-pickers have been to conferences globally as public speakers. A half-hour film on client interaction trains these women who live and work in rough public areas. Improving the livelihood of waste-pickers is Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of dignity of labour in practice. SWaCH welcomes volunteers to the organisation. Cheques made out to Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat for donations to SWaCH can be sent to the address alongside.

    SWaCH Pune Seva Sahakari Sanstha Maryadi

    Kothrud Kachara Depot,
    Kothrud, Pune-411 038
    Mob: 9765999500
    E-mail: [email protected]

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    8 years ago

    sustainable future = decentralisation and localisation and community driven - i.e. away from govt control. govt shud only act as custodians and regulators. nothing more. get rid of the fake bloated govt machinery first.

    vasanthi narayan

    8 years ago

    SWaCH is doing yoeman service taking care of waste management and concurrently helping those involved in the project. Other cities need to learn from this enterprise and follow in their footsteps .
    The author has done well to enlighten the readers on this subject

    Life   Exclusive
    Protecting Childhood

    Samatol Foundation saves children from straying into crime and tries to send them back to their homes

    Mumbai, the land of opportunities, attracts many in search of employment and glamour. Among them are innocent children, who run away from home and dream of making it big. Unfortunately, their dreams are short-lived and often, a railway station is all they find  as a resting place. Often they become victims of drug trafficking and sexual abuse.

    To give a fresh lease of life to these abused children,  Samatol Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), was founded by Vijay Jadhav in 2006. Its objective is to rehabilitate children who are five years old and above from railway stations and unite them with their families. ‘Samatol’ means ‘balance’. Samatol tries to restore respectability and thereby create balance in the society,” explains Mr Jadhav, who gave up his job to devote time for social work. Samatol Foundation started its work by raising awareness on the importance of rescuing and rehabilitating children found on railway platforms. It required sensitising all the stakeholders, like railway police, passengers and railway’s accident helpers. “Accident hamals (helpers) were our first active volunteers as they were quick to identify newly arrived kids and those who have returned,” says Mr Jadhav.

    Samatol’s activities involve rescuing newly arrived children before they become part of the other kids already settled on the platform. After a detailed background check of the new arrivals, Samatol’s volunteers convince them to return home.
    The Foundation also conducts manaparivartan shibir (attitude change programme) a de-addiction and home-orientation programme for children who often work as shoeshine boys. Drug de-addiction forms an important and difficult part of the rehabilitation.

    “The 45-day programme addresses about 25 kids in the 8-16 years age group. They are physically examined and also counselled against drug addiction. We try to instil discipline in them and work on their self-esteem. We try to create an interest in education and concern for family in them. If the child is ready to go back home, we send him back considering his family’s financial position. In some cases, they are rehabilitated with other NGOs and are given education and vocational training,” explains Mr Jadhav.

    The Foundation conducts training programmes by experts on child psychology for police and government officials. It also conducts a survey of railway stations every two years.

    Samatol also helps in rehabilitation of kids at government observation/remand homes, who are willing to go back to their homes. Accordingly, legal formalities are completed at the Foundation’s expense. Since inception, Samatol has reunited around 3,000 children with their families. It has contacted about 7,000 children in six years. It has a large volunteer base, comprising professionals like doctors, engineers and IAS officers throughout the country who assist the organisation in case of children sent back home. They follow up on the cases so that the children do not run away again.

    Samatol funds its activities mainly through individual donations. Mr Jadhav says, “We seek help from individuals and thereby sensitise them to the problem. We don’t touch any foreign funding. Corporate donations are allowed partly; we never take funding from one company for an entire project. This allows us freedom to work.” One can volunteer for Samatol Foundation and also donate. All donations are eligible for tax exemption under Section 80(G) of the Income-Tax Act.

    1/ 4, Ahmed Umar Building,
    Dr D’Silva Road, Above Darbar Hotel,
    Dadar (W), Mumbai-400 028
    Tel: 022-25454838
    E-mail:[email protected]

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