Surprise visit to Aim for Seva hostels a truly overwhelming experience, says Dr. Mithia
Mississauga, February 20: Imagine a gated property, which has its own water treatment facility for potable water, a ‘gobar gas’ plant for cooking, solar panels for electricity, a cow-pen for dairy produce and a sprawling organic farm to grow agro-produce! Needless to say, it would be the most ‘environmental-friendly’ facility in the world. To cap it all, what if this facility was used for housing the children coming from ‘poorest of the poor’ background? Sounds incredible?
Well, this is how a student hostel for the abject poor has been constructed by AIM for Seva in Kankanpur, a tiny hamlet about 8 miles from Godhra in Gujarat, India.
A Mississauga-based dentist, Dr. Vipin Mithia, who has been a very active volunteer of Aim for Sewa, paid a surprise visit to two hostels, one in Kankanpur near Godhra and the other in Amreli near Rajkot last November. As an enthusiastic member of the organization, Dr. Mithia wanted to collect ‘first-hand information’ on how Aim for Seva hostels are doing.
Describing his experience as “truly overwhelming”, Dr. Mithia said that what struck him the most was that the hostel students were excelling in studies “beyond all expectations.” He said that 80 per cent of the students in the hostel were scoring over 70 per cent marks in their examination. While passing marks in India are 35%, most students are passing with distinction. “It is very astounding that with just a little help, these students are turning out to be achievers. I am sure each of them will do remarkably well in their life”, Dr. Mithia said.
Dr. Mithia, who has a practice in Mississauga, was all praise for the hostel. He has recorded minutest details of the hostels with this handy-cam. As we watched the recording over DVDs awe and admiration, Dr. Mithia also narrated his experiences live for our readers. “It is a semi-circular two-storey building with a huge vacant space in the centre. The morning assembly of the students takes place in this vacant space. On the upper floor is the dormitory and each child is given a bed, mattress and a shelf, where he can keep his books and other studying material. A small corridor connects to an annexure, which houses a kitchen and a dining hall”, Dr. Mithia added.
Extolling the virtues of the facility, Dr. Mithia said that the building has quite an elaborate water-supply infrastructure. “The water is drawn from a bore-well and then it is desalinated by a desalination machine. After the water is desalinated, it is thoroughly filtered using reverse osmosis. Initially, I was a wee bit apprehensive of having the water. However, when I saw the elaborate water treatment infrastructure, all my apprehensions about the quality of water were allayed. I had water while having my food and I did not suffer from any Delhi-belly syndrome,” he said.
“The hostel also has a cow-pen in which four Jersey cows have been kept. These cows provide milk and other dairy produce for the children. The cow dung and human waste is used in the gobar gas plan to generate gas for cooking and heating water. In addition, the cow dung and other organic waste are composted and 50% of the compost is used in the hostel’s farm to grow agro produce for the hostel children and remaining 50% sold in market.
“The hostel building is equipped with massive solar panels. These solar panels generate enough electricity for the external facility. The whole facility is a self-reliant, self-sustaining and self-sufficient”, Dr Mithia added.
Dr. Mithia, apparently, also loved the food prepared in the hostel kitchen. “We were served the same food as served to the children – rotis, two vegetables, dal (lentil soup) and chach (butter milk). The quality of food was very good. Actually, the hostel employs the services of a doctor/nutritionist and the food is prepared according to the guidelines prescribed by this nutritionist, and perhaps that is why the food appeared to be so tasty and healthy”, he added.
He also emphasized that he had not informed about this visit to the care-takers of the hostel. “I called them just half-an-hour before I was to reach the facility. This was to ensure that the care-takers do not get a chance to cover up anything as I wanted to see the things the way they were.” Dr Mithia said.
Besides the hostel in Kankanpur, Dr. Mithia also paid a surprise visit to another hostel run by Aim for Seva in Amreli, which is located near Rajkot. “I chose the Amreli hostel to visit because it was constructed with the help of the donations from one of my friend Dr. Subodh/Ami Kanani. Again, I wanted to check for myself how the hostel was being run so that I could pass on first hand information to Subodh, he said.
Dr Mithia added that this hostel in Amreli is constructed on a plot which would be half acre. It has just one storey in which 23 students live. Since this hostel does not have enough land around it, it does not have a huge organic farm as the Kankanpur hostel has. The care-takers at this hostel are also doing a remarkable job. The students are served four meals a day – breakfast, lunch, light snacks and then dinner – in the same order in a day. He further added that the care-takers are making concerted efforts to make this hostel self-sufficient on the lines of Kankanpur hostel. “However, for this they need at least 4 to 5 acres of adjoining land. The care-takers have moved the local business people to donate the money to purchase the adjoining land. The talks are going on and let’s hope that we get enough money to further expand this hostel.
Dr. Mithia heaped rich praises on Amreli hostel’s care-takers for ‘bringing up the children with so much of love and care’. Citing an anecdote, Dr. Mithia said, “one of the children was suffering from some grave psychological problem. He came from utmost poor background. His father was a barber and his mother had passed away. He was wetting the bed, had behavioral problems, and was a recluse. He was referred to a psychologist. However, his condition seemed to be very grave. In spite of all this, the care-takers did not lose hope. They persisted, nurturing him with love and warmth. And lo behold, he started improving. The biggest surprise came when this student passed his fifth grade with flying colors. When most of them, including the doctors had written off this child, the care-takers persevered…and because of their perseverance, a life was saved from becoming total mental wreck”, he added.
What are the future goals of Aim for Seva and what are the probable impediments in achieving them? “Well, we want to open at least one hostel in each district of India. There are around 680 districts in India, and right now we have just 70 hostels, so the number is quite staggering. And the biggest impediment is of course finance,” says Dr Mithia
“In order to raise finances, we have to make concerted efforts in increasing awareness of the good work done by Aim for Seva, so that many more donors come forward. In addition, there are many foreign Non governmental organizations (NGOs), which give lot of grants and donations to organizations like Aim for Seva. If these NGOs recognize the work done by Aim for Seva, we can get lot more funding from them,” he adds.
“I have seen it first-hand what marvelous hostels Aim for Seva has constructed. These hostels may be one of the most green facilities in the world and through these hostels we are trying to uplift the most downtrodden children of the society.”
“Even if you can’t donate money, you can contribute to Aim for Seva through your professional skill-sets, and expertise. It is because various professionals provide their services to Aim for Seva free of cost, it does not have any administrative overlays. All the money received in donation is devoted for the cause,” Dr. Mithia added.
While exhorting prospective donors to come forward, Dr. Mithia signed off with a Rabbi Hillel quote, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when? ”