Harjot Kaur 23 August 2013

Unlike the pilgrim survivors who went home, the locals of Uttarakhand are struggling to rebuild their lives. Moneylife writes about an initiative born out of this tragedy

When TV screens started beaming visuals of rampaging rivers that almost seemed to wreak vengeance on the picturesque hills of Uttarakhand, Anuradha and Anurag Sangal decided that they needed to do something concrete to help in the reconstruction process.

The Uttarakhand tragedy, which swept away roads, bridges and people, shook the very foundation of an economy entirely dependent on religious tourism. While the rescued pilgrims went home, the locals have no option but to rebuild their lives, that too without their main source of income—religious yatras which have come to a halt. Initially, the Sangals emailed friends and relatives to chip in; later, appeals were posted on social media seeking volunteers as well as ideas for fund-raising. That is how Leap Foundation’s rehabilitation initiative was born.

The appeal, through twitter and facebook (, transcended personal friendships; they began to receive responses from individuals, trusts and other organisations. The facebook page also provided a platform for communicating details of Leap Foundation’s activities and needs.

A big breakthrough came when the celebrated film and television artiste, Sushant Singh, got involved. “He took our small initiative to another level and actually inspired and encouraged the formalisation of the effort into Leap Foundation—a programme to rehabilitate the Uttarakhand local survivors.” This happened very quickly because the founders added Leap Foundation’s initiative to projects already undertaken by Sri Som Prakash Sangal Charitable Trust, set up in the memory of Mr Sanghal’s father, which is engaged in providing relief to the underprivileged in the areas of education, healthcare and marriage(s) of the girl child.

Mr Sangal says, “As relief aid started pouring in from all corners of the world, the real challenge was to ensure that it reaches the affected and needy. We analysed the situation and realised that resumption of connectivity to improve access to aid was the immediate need.”

The group decided to utilise the services of Nature Connect, the adventure arm of LEAP Education, a quality education initiative run by the Sangal Charitable Trust in Dehradun. They, in turn, collaborated with an NGO from Varanasi and built a wire bridge across the Mandakini River. It was a Herculean task to connect three quintals of steel wire across the River and was accomplished with the help of locals. The bridge restored connectivity to 6,000 villagers of 11 villages in the Phata region of Rudraprayag district. After this success, they sent a team to Guptakashi to explore the possibility of connecting more villages using wire bridges.

Describing this arduous effort, Mr Sangal says, “Our 11-member team reached Guptakashi on the night of 25th July after a gruelling 15-hour road journey with all the material and equipment required to construct two wire bridges, as well as groceries and cooking equipment for themselves. The mandate was to focus on remote villages. The team trekked 80km over the next seven days and strengthened the wire bridge at Rael Gaon over Mandakini; they also constructed another bridge at Chillond village over Kali Ganga to connect it to Jaal Talla, Jaal Malla and Chaumasi. They returned to Dehradun on 3rd August after a torturous 40-hour road journey of which one night was spent camping on the roadside at Mayali.” More such bridges are a part of their immediate plans.

LEAP Foundation has initiated the second phase of its activity—to create sustainable livelihood opportunities for the affected and needy. “We understand that we cannot reach out to each and every affected person; but, we are determined to keep expanding the scope of our engagement so that more and more locals are brought within the ambit of our livelihood programme. We consider ourselves blessed to have secured the trust of so many individuals and our unflinching determination to the cause of Uttarakhand remains as strong as ever. Every morning, we pray to HIM to give us the strength and resolve to undertake this responsibility,” says Mr Sangal.

If you are moved by Leap Foundation’s contribution in rebuilding Uttarakhand and want to donate, contributions are eligible for tax exemption under Section 80G.

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