Lighting Up Lives

Blindness has not prevented Bhavesh Bhatia from setting up Sunrise Candles which allows  him to light up lives of handicapped people employed by him

 
Going from partial blindness at birth to complete blindness, Bhavesh Bhatia experienced the slow and painful process of watching the light go out of his life. It was in 1997 that the retinal macular degeneration that he suffered from, finally, led to complete blindness. But, he had studied hotel management after graduating in economics and was working as a hotel manager for over 13 years at Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra’s best-known hill-station. He was also married, had a young son and a very encouraging wife who was determined to support his effort at rebuilding his life. It was then that he was struck with the idea of spreading light in the lives of others. He learnt that NAB (National Association of the Blind, Worli, Mumbai) has a rehabilitation division to help people who turn blind after the age of 16. From among the various training options offered by NAB, Bhavesh chose to learn candle-making. 
 
But it wasn’t easy. Niraj Chandan, who helped him in the early days, says, “I met Bhavesh Bhatia five years ago. He had put up a stall to sell candles near a church in Mahabaleshwar.” Niraj went to Bhavesh’s house where he made the candles. “I could not believe my eyes. He was doing it so well. I took photographs with my digital camera and put up a small website— 
www.sunrisecandles.in. We advertised on Google and started getting lot of orders.” Then things began to change. A couple of years ago, Bhavesh got a piece of land from a friend and another friend, a contractor, built a small candle-making centre there.” That is how Sunrise Candles manages to operate on a commercial scale producing over 6,000 candles in a month. These include pillar candles, floating candles, unique novelty candles, gel candles, toy-shaped candles and interesting gift basket candles which are all displayed on the website. 
 
Having to face the daily ordeals of life, on 
26 May 2012, Bhavesh decided to start a coaching centre called the ‘Wax Museum’ on a 4,000sq-ft space at Moleshwar village, 7km from Mahabaleshwar. Here, he trains physically-challenged persons in the art of candle-making, free of cost. Depending on their aptitude and nature of disability, they are trained in finishing, packaging or marketing. Sunrise also has 65 blind and handicapped employees.  
 
Over time, the good work has been recognised and rewarded in many ways. Bhavesh has participated in several exhibitions, including one at the Dhirubhai Ambani International School, and won several awards. He has been working actively with NAB. He has received several prestigious awards for his entrepreneurship and social work. He represents issues pertaining to the blind on a number of state committees. Interestingly, Bhatia’s life is not about candle-making alone. What is unique about him is his keen interest and excellence in sports. At the National Para-Olympics held at Bengaluru recently, he won the gold medal for shot-put and the silver medal for discus throw. He is also a keen swimmer and has innumerable sporting achievements at the district and state level as well. Bhavesh lives with his wife Neeta and son Kunal in Mahabaleshwar. If you want to support his work, order his candles or help with outreach, you can contact him through Sunrise Candles at the address given on the left. 
 
(Sunrise Candles, C/o RK Wadi, Mahabaleshwar, District Satara, Maharashtra
Mobile: +91 9850600634 / +91 9422034729)
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Karmayogi Pratisthan the Able Guide

The one source that a Mumbaikar can tap for information on any civic issue or education, is www.diehardindian.com, a website run by Karmayogi Pratisthan 

 
In the year 2002, after eight years in the US, a young, rank-holding engineer, Gaurang Damani, returned to India, determined to make a difference. He passionately believed that the time had come for India to take its ‘rightful place’ in the world. But it was easier said than done. 
 
In 2003, he set up Karmayogi Pratisthan, a not-for-profit organisation aimed at building awareness and empowering people about how to deal with everyday problems. Karmayoga, in a nutshell, is described as ‘selfless service unto humanity’ and that is what the Pratisthan does through regular blood donation camps, distribution of educational material, school notebooks, financial assistance for deserving students, as well as a host of other activities like beautification of precincts, better traffic management and countering harassment of people through mindless government actions such as unauthorised towing of cars. 
 
Along with this action on the ground, Gaurang decided to use his information technology background to create a go-to place called www.diehardindian.com for absolutely whatever information that a person, especially a Mumbaikar, would ever need in life. So if you need an election card, ration card, senior citizen card, birth certificate, death certificate, marriage certificate, or information on hostels, ambulances, eye banks, helplines or counselling facilities (for AIDs, senior citizens, ragging, abuse, etc) and don’t know how to find it, just log on to the website. That’s not all. If you want to know how to deal with mosquito infestation, dangerously overgrown trees, report traffic issues, learn about rainwater harvesting or file any civic complaint, you can get information and leads on www.diehardindia.com. 
 
The best feature of the website is that it provides names and numbers of all police stations and of Mumbai’s 227 wards. Asked why he had posted contact details of officials, Gaurang says, “Often, we find scamsters posing as municipal officials. They fine people for things like car washing or putting window grills. So if someone intimidates you claiming to be a civic official, you should ask for their ID cards and know your rights before paying any money.”
 
Dealing with the police also tends to confuse and frighten people. So the website informs people about their rights as well as how to file complaints, what is a first information report (FIR) and the difference between a bailable and non-bailable offence and arrest. The same goes for towing and traffic fines, where Gaurang has filed and won a successful litigation against unauthorised towing of vehicles in Mumbai. 
 
Another useful segment of www.diehardindian.com deals with the Right to Information (RTI) Act. It provides practical tips (and samples) on how to file successful applications and detailed guidance on the first and second appeal process. Gaurang is himself a successful user of RTI and has even conducted a clinic on RTI for Moneylife Foundation. A special section covers everything you need to know about buying, renting, repairing a flat or re-developing an entire building. In addition to this, the section includes useful links to government websites for details. 
 
Empowerment through information (including contact details of your corporator, MLA and MP) is Gaurang’s formula to a better society and he is constantly seeking feedback on how to add, improve and update the information provided. How is all this funded? Gaurang says he does not need aggressive fund-raising. The money comes from his own resources and support from friends and well-wishers. Committed volunteers from his locality (the Dadar-Matunga-Wadala-Sion area in Mumbai) invariably join him in various campaigns for blood and organ donations, distribution of schoolbooks or providing medicine to the needy. Donations to Karmayogi Pratishtan are eligible for tax deduction under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act. 
 
If you would like to join the effort, check the website and write to [email protected].
 
Karmayogi Pratishtan 
11th floor, Avanti Apartments,  
A Wing, Flat No 2, Opp Gandhi Market, 
Flank Road, Sion (East), Mumbai 400022
 
 
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Smiling through Tears

For terminally-ill cancer patients, Avedna Ashram in Jaipur is a haven, writes  Dr Nita Mukherjee

 
Avedna means absence of pain. While this is the one thing in life that all of us pray for, for the terminally ill, this hope alone can make life worth living. It is this hope that the Khailshankar Durlabhji Avedna Ashram offers.
 
The Ashram’s first brochure had spelt out the founder Rashmi Durlabhji’s vision thus: “We accept the inevitability of death as also the certainty of pain. When medicine ceases to play a role, when friends and relatives tire of providing support, Avedna Ashram steps in. Here we will add life to a person’s days when medicines cannot add days to his life…” The trustees appealed for “contribution in bringing peace and dignity to someone in pain.” The people of Jaipur responded, as they continue to do when they see the selfless service that the volunteers, as well as the professional staff of the Ashram, provide. 
 
Started in 1997 by Mr Durlabhji, a gemstone trader, in the memory of his father, the Ashram is now spread over a 64,000-sq ft, four-storey building. The hospice provides palliative care to cancer patients in their final days completely free of cost and is equipped with a modern blood bank, laundry, library and kitchen. Admission to the hospice is only on being certified as ‘terminally-ill’ by a doctor.
 
Hospice care is a special way of dealing with patients suffering from incurable illness. Unlike hospitals, hospices provide only passive medication. Patients receive emotional, spiritual and practical support to relieve pain and prepare them for death. In the US, the government provides hospice services free of cost. In India, so far, it is left to the non-government sector and charity organisations.
 
“We don’t offer cure,” says 77-year-old Shirish Mody, a member of the advisory committee of the Ashram. “We offer patients a chance to face the truth. We prepare them to confront pain, anguish and death. Hence, emphasis is on counselling and treating the spirit.” The Ashram has a prayer hall where multi-faith prayers are held every day. Free medical and nursing care is provided irrespective of community, caste or creed. Despite being surrounded by death, the staff maintains a cheerful face at all times to keep the spirits of residents high. “It’s not always easy to smile,” says Mr Mody, “but everyone is brave.” The atmosphere of cheer and hope has been largely responsible for the hospice’s success.
 
Even after spending Rs3.5-crore on the hospice, initially, few people came for admission. The stigma of ‘being dumped’ and an ‘old people’s home’ as being a ‘one-way ticket to oblivion’ so deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche remains. But slowly the word spread; now, of the 100 beds in the hospice, on an average, 80 are occupied at any given point in time. Many residents have come to look upon Avedna Ashram as a home. Some years ago, a 65 year-old goldsmith afflicted with lung cancer, even wrote a new will before his death, adopting the Ashram as his home and its inmates as his family. Till date, the Ashram has provided over 2,00,000 person-days of care to the terminally ill. The longest stay of a patient was over two years, the average stay being 20 days. 
 
On the ground floor, the Ashram has a Day-Care Centre for senior citizens with facilities like free medical consultation, yoga, physiotherapy, acupressure classes, indoor games (like carrom, cards, scrabble and chess), a well-stocked library and reading room. Fitted with ramps and lifts for the disabled, the Centre is open from 10am to 5pm. The Centre has a resident doctor and some beds for afternoon siesta. 
 
Volunteers organise several group activities: every month, there is a joint birthday party celebrating all the birthdays in that month. The one-time registration fee for the Centre is Rs200. Currently, 250 senior citizens are members. 
 
If you can smile through your tears, do volunteer. Donations are exempt under Section 80G.
 
Khailshankar Durlabhji Avedna Ashram SDM Hospital Campus
Bhawani Singh Road 
Jaipur 302015
Phone: +91-141-2566251
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