Anandwan which literally means “Forest of Joy” is standing up to its name of spreading happiness and providing shelter to thousands of leprosy patients. It was founded in 1952 by social activist Murlidhar Devidas Amte renownedly known as Baba Amte.
It all started with DOCC, Development of Corporate Citizenship, a course in SPJIMR that aspires to sensitize the candidates about the Indian culture and social stigma by partnering with the project NGO. When I first heard about DOCC program and our visit to Anandwan, I wasn’t sure how effective this would be and what changes it will bring into our lives. With the dilemma in my mind and curiosity to visit Anandwan, we kicked off our journey with a team of 70 participants on 28th April (Sunday) for a 3-day activity. Every participant was divided among several groups and was assigned a project/challenge on which they have to focus on during their stay at Anandwan. I was in a group of 6 members and my challenge was Waste Upcycling. Anandwan has a zero waste tolerance and it’s amazing to see how people are coming up with innovative ways to utilize waste.
Day 1 (29th April 2019) – After reaching there we were given a walk-through of the entire village. The entire village was an epitome of self-sustainability. Starting from manufacturing clothes to growing food, the village was grouped into several departments and was managed so efficiently. Later the schedule was followed by a meeting with Dr. Gautam who gave us deep insights into the Anandwan and their expectation of us.
Day 2 (30th April 2019) – After an insightful Day 1, Day 2 was focused on individual group challenges. As a part of Waste Upcycling, I along with my group met various departments like Greeting Cards, Posters, and Strissue, who were utilizing the waste and coming up with great products. Our day was spent understanding the current process and how we can leverage it to increase the income and outreach of the products.
Day 3 ( 1st May 2019) – The final day at Anandwan was spent gathering quantitative details across the various departments. Followed by a meeting with Dr. Sheetal, granddaughter of Baba Amte. With many memories and learning, we adieu to the Anandwan and the people with a promise to improve their current situation.
(People of Anandwan)
Critique – Analysis & Assessment
Anandwan is the home of leprosy patients who are not accepted by the world. Before visiting Anandwan, I considered “leprosy” to be a communicable disease. We the MBA candidates, who are known to be the most educated population of India, aren’t aware of leprosy disease than think about the rest of India and what they perceive about the disease. All these misconceptions were addressed when I visited the leprosy hospital at Anandwan which has served more than 30000 patients so far. The primary focus is the treatment of the disease whereas the secondary focus is to build socio-economic and physiological welfare for the patients to build a healthy lifestyle. With this social stigma, these people who are capable of doing wonders, are not accepted by their own families.
“Everyone deserves a second chance”, after being dejected by their own family members, Baba Amte’s vision to cater to and help these patients led to the creation of Anandwan. He was the man who believed in the capabilities of these patients and gave them a second chance.
Reflections – Retrospection & Introspection
Spending almost 3 days and knowing the place and the people have raised many open-ended questions in my life which I would like to address using the below questions:
What did I notice?
I think to lead a monotonous life where I spend most part of the day either learning new things or criticizing about rules of the world. Most of my time was spent in the “Why me?” attitude where I keep complaining to God about the difficulties in life without thinking about the luxuries of life. While 3 days might sound very little but there were many interactions that gave me a lifetime of memories. Meeting with 100+ people and speaking to 10+ people taught me the real value of life. There were so many minor things that add up to the ocean of reflections.
Smile around every corner of Anandwan – Every people who live in Anandwan are the one who is not accepted by the world and they were left alone by their family. With immense pain and disabilities, they are spending life in despair. Yet, every single day they are working hard for their livelihood with all sources of energy drawing from under their nose i.e Smile. “Smile is the best way to fight every problem, crush every fear and concur with the world”. This simple formula is the key for the people of Anandwan to lead a joyful life. Considering me, I have got a healthy body, good family, food to eat, shelter to live, people to visit, money to spend, overall I am leading a happy life compared to 95% of the people in the world. Yet, I cry over small losses. If I compare my life with the people of Anandwan, I have got no reason to cry and instead thank God for providing me with a healthy life and family. If leprosy patients, who have disabilities and are rejected by their families can smile and be happy, why can’t I look into the brighter side of my life and be happy?
Where there is a will, there is a way – Disability in the people affected by leprosy is a challenge. This disability is not just a physical function but also includes discrimination, social restriction, and activity limitations. The key factor about this disability is the lack of awareness among the people. Once you are affected by leprosy people lose hope and think of it as the end of life. Anandwan has been working for the upliftment of these people and helping them to earn their own livelihood. Leprosy is not a disability for the people but more or less social stigma. During our visit, each and every patient has their own mode of livelihood. Few of them do agriculture, while few of them create handmade greeting cards and posters. Many of them are working on machines while many people are working at hospitals. Irrespective of their deformed hand/fingers, it’s amazing to see how they are still working without showing any sign of helplessness. This is only possible with a strong will and dedication. Few of them were in fact working with their legs. It’s well justified if one door is closed, many more doors are opened. People who lose their limbs, lose hope and start begging, but people at Anandwan are setting an example of how beautiful life can be made with the remaining things in place.
What does this journey mean to me?
Every journey has its own significance, and the journey to the Anandwan has an altogether different impact on my life. A journey which started as a college course (DOCC) made me realize my duties toward society. I have read many books from childhood, that preaches us about social welfare but it resides theoretically. It was the first time in my life when I actually visited an NGO and interacted with people. I care for people and always want to help the needful but this journey actually provided me a platform to connect and work towards it. Although my challenge was specific to “Waste Upcycling” but I learned how Anandwan is contributing to all the aspects of life such as Environment, Livelihood, Healthcare, Rehabilitation, Agriculture, Education.
Apart from our social responsibility, the journey helped me to understand the real value of leadership. Till now, I use to consider my father as a true leader, whom I have seen from childhood, shaping up the lives of our family members and leading us to success. But Anandwan is beyond leadership, it’s a perfect environment where people help each other and grow together. I have always heard a leader is someone who is a source of inspiration but at Anandwan, everyone is a leader and it’s a web of inspiration that has closely tied up and created a strong bond of interconnectedness.
How did Anandwan shape my life?
There were many life lessons that 27 years of my existence haven’t taught me which the 3-day journey was able to teach.
Learn to be happy in every situation – It’s often well said that “Smile, is what it takes to fight all the problems” and Anandwan has actually proved it. If I take an example of before and after of me facing similar situations, my perspective to see problems has changed completely.
Before – I was a pessimistic person, who always use to count the negative aspects of life. One such incident happened to me before joining SPJIMR. I was working as a Sales Engineer in my last organization where I had to meet monthly targets. Being in a Sales role is a challenging task, especially when you have to meet targets every time. I never failed to complete my targets and indeed use to overachieve them. But it was a bad month when I couldn’t even achieve 50% of the target. This became a reason for me to be sad and skip my food for the whole day. I worsened the situation by getting into a heated argument with my family members.
After – With all the learnings from Anandwan and trying to follow it, when I reflect back on the situation, I feel I am foolish. Maybe it was very important during that period of time but my action was unnecessary and brainless. There was nothing wrong that happened in my life for which I behaved that way. I feel sorry for my actions and for hurting others.
Roti, Kapda Aur Makaan – The 3 basic necessities of life are – “Food, Cloth and Shelter” rest everything is luxury. We spend an immense amount of money on luxuries just to look good and fulfill our taste buds. While I don’t know how to build or develop any of the above three necessities. People at Anandwan are great examples of how things are built from scratch. They grow their own food, build their own shelter and stitch their own clothes. I saw the immense effort it takes to do these activities and understood the value of a single grain of food. I never cared about the food and wasted it, never cared about cloth and threw it with a single cut. But after witnessing the effort and time it takes to produce a single thread from cotton, taught me the real value.
The true meaning of leadership - A leader is one who inspires you to do great things. Definition of leadership for me was limited to the scope of Politics, Sports, or War but never thought that even a common people living around us can be a great leader. One such example was Baba Amte who started Anandwan and changed the life of Leprosy patients. But that’s not the end, it’s the beginning of many more leaders who are fighting with their disabilities and inspiring many others like them to lead a peaceful life. There were great singers, actors, and artisans, who have huge potential and disabilities didn’t seem to hinder their talents. They are the true leaders who have not only inspired the many others like them but has brought a positive change in their life. Being an MBA student and aspiring leader of tomorrow’s corporate world, it becomes my duty to share the value among my team but also address how my decision will shape the world financially, economically, and socially.
Everything is possible in this world – We have great examples of the saying “Everything is possible in this world”, if a Chaiwala can become the Prime Minister of India, no one can stop you to fulfill your dreams. There is always a difference between listening to great examples and meeting the real-life heroes who actually made everything possible. The people of Anandwan are those real heroes who made everything possible in this world. People who are not socially accepted because of their disability and social stigma, came together to create an environment that runs of its own without any outer world dependencies. If they can do this impossible task of creating a smart village on their own, then what’s stopping me from fulfilling my dreams with all the facilities available. I use to underestimate my potential for doing things, but I changed the lens of viewing things and hope to have an impact in the coming days.
When I look back on the days spent at Anandwan, The overwhelming experience I felt was a joy. Those were the only people after my family and friends who were happy in meeting me and it can be sensed by the warmth in their eyes and their gestures. Although, I couldn’t communicate with elderly people (didn’t understand their languages) I can feel the connectedness by shaking hands with them. All the time, I was there it made me realize how much I get and how less I give. I couldn't be more thankful for the healthy life I am leading.
We often hear “Health is Wealth”, I understood the real meaning once I went to Anandwan. My initial reaction was skeptical about Anandwan but as the time kept on passing, I was amazed to see the beautiful environment around me. At times it was really hard to see the disabled people working but slowly, the disability was merely invisible, as every people can do everything they want without any hindrance. There were so many moments which were joyful, I would really like to take a note of them, soak them up and absorb everything while it was happening. They taught us the real meaning of a happy life and it’s the perception of a human mind that can make or break you.
Baba Amte’s own word “Give them chance, not charity” is the key takeaway that I would like to keep throughout my life. It truly explains every single person has their potential and given a chance, it shall be proved. Baba Amte’s revolution was built on the single philosophy of “Everyone deserves a second chance” and Baba has provided it by leaving high materialistic life and devoted his life to the upliftment of the socially unaccepted people.
I would like to thank the entire team of PGPM, DOCC, and Anandwan who has helped us to experience a lifetime opportunity. I would also extend my gratitude to Dr. Sheetal Amte and Gautam Karajgi for welcoming us to the Anandwan and helping us understand the values.
A few key traits which can be observed across the entire family of Baba Amte are:
Persistence – Everyone in the family stayed for a long time to understand the complexities of the problem with a never give up attitude.
Clarity of vision – They were clear about what they wanted to achieve.
Humbleness – They treated the leprosy patients as a part of their family and adopted their way of living. Very down-to-earth persons who didn’t value materialistic things.
Anandwan is the epitome of a value-based society, which we read in books where every member is performing their duties, irrespective of any challenges with a feeling of togetherness. With this whole experience, I feel the change in my perspective towards the socially unaccepted people and the wonders they are capable of doing, but most importantly the impact and lessons it has taught me to become a better and socially responsible citizen. I believe this is what Baba Amte’s vision was 72 years ago.