Pics & Text: ANJALI NAURIYAL
The Swamis (GK Swami and his wife Chinni Swami) were an unusual couple. They dedicated all of their retired life to the betterment of society, in an effort at fulfilling their social responsibility. They were consumed by the idea of enhancing the lives of disadvantaged rural youth through education, and empowering women through skill development.
Their wonderful partnership came to a sad end on Friday 11th June when GKS breathed his last after a brief period of illness. Chinni had already announced her retirement from work, about a year ago, and the shock of her husband going must be a terrible one for her to bear. Condolence messages have poured in from all corners from people who recognize and appreciate their work. Two architects of disadvantaged people’s lives have bowed out silently and Doon will never be the same again!
The couple lived and worked in a rural village outside of Dehradun called Purkul, located in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. The couple zeroed in on this area when they realized that here many families lacked basic education and skills, and suffered from various cultural and social problems, which kept them locked in a continuous cycle of poverty. The families often struggled to survive on a low, single income and had little opportunity to improve their situation. Their children did not have access to education, role models or support services and as a result, lacked motivation and opportunity for a better life.
The Swamis decided to address these concerns and enhanced the opportunities available to this community. This was almost 20 years ago when the couple started two initiatives – ‘Yuva Shakti’ and ‘Stree Shakti.’
Through their Yuva Shakti program, the Swamis tried to provide a holistic support system to young adults, that included intensive educational tuition, individual mentoring and attention to nutrition and health care. The underlying belief was that if they were provided a support mechanism that offered mentoring and wisdom from a diverse group of teachers and staff, the youth of the community would have a newfound hope and succeed in acting as agents of transformational change in their society.
Intensive educational assistance apart, village children were then provided nutritious afternoon meal, access to computers, library materials and other electronic media. Regular yoga classes too were conducted for them. Sports facilities, exposure to the outside world and regular field trips were all put in place.
The Swamis started both their initiatives from the precincts of their home. To begin with GK Swami spent many hours tutoring four young students. Later he found several sponsors to fund their enrollment into a local school. In 2001, 29 students became part of this sponsorship scheme, coming to Swami’s house after school. Soon the number of children seeking help swelled and in 2003 Purkal Youth Development Society was formed to embrace this growing number. Many began studying in Swami’s garden, some in the garage, some on the veranda and some outside on the roof. With the help of four other teachers, Swamy continued to house the programme until there was simply not enough space.
Thanks to the generosity of friends, PYDS managed to commence building of a permanent facility in 2006.
With time ‘Yuva Shakti’ project almost tripled in size and had a huge number of children under its care.
“Bus Them to Purkal” was GKS’s brilliant idea. As per this scheme Swami prepared a group of 23 children who had no real education to be integrated into the mainstream education system. The group was composed of mostly girls who came from very poor families living in the interior regions of the mountains.
The children were transported to the learning center every day by bus and taught by qualified teachers. They spent a full day at the center and were provided nutritious meals. They were taught general knowledge and given foundation in English, Hindi and Mathematics. Gradually the children started showing drastic improvement and increased self-confidence. This program continued for years with the help of sponsors.
Stree Shakti was an endeavour that was very dear to Chinni Swami. This aimed at creating economic stability for women to meet the needs of their income-starved families. It empowered rural women by providing skill training and workspace to produce quilts, handbags, purses, bed sheet sets and a variety of beautifully handmade products. With design and market assistance the womenfolk were able to successfully sell their products in over 15 countries.
Operation costs were not factored into the price of the products and the women received the full benefits of their labor.
With the success of this venture the women were organized into “self help groups” where they were in charge of their own production and sale of products. The program expanded and later a new building was constructed to accommodate more numbers.
Not only did the program help to improve the economic situation of the women and their families, but also brought about a personal change in the women and how they were viewed in the community. The women now had more respect in the community and greater self-confidence.
The Swamis have taken a bow, and Doon will forever be grateful to them for their wonderful contribution!
(Dr Anjali Nauriyal is veteran journalist, author, social worker and actor. Her book ‘Retelling of the Folk Ballads of Garhwal’ has become a regional best seller. As an actor she was last seen in a cameo in the film ‘PM Narendra Modi’, webseries Peshawar).