Prakash and Mandakini Amte get Magsaysay Award (Lead)

July 31st, 2008 - 7:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Nagpur, July 31 (IANS) Prakash and Mandakini Amte, the physician couple who have won this year’s Magsaysay Award for community leadership, have been running a hospital, a school and development centre in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district since 1974. Prakash is the son of renowned social worker Baba Amte, a Magsaysay award winner himself. Prakash, 60, and Mandakini, 62, who studied at Government Medical College, Nagpur, plunged into social work immediately after getting their degrees, starting a health centre at Hemalkasa in the middle of an area inhabited largely by the Maria Gonds tribesmen.

For decades, they have worked under the shadow of Murlidhar Devidas Amte, revered as Baba Amte, who died Feb 9 this year.

Shunning the attractions of private medical practice, the couple opted to live and work among the 100,000-strong Maria Gonds.

The area in which they serve includes parts of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh in the very centre of India.

Mandakini told IANS by phone from Hemalkasa Thursday afternoon that although they never hankered for any recognition, “we are glad that our efforts are acknowledged”.

“This award will help us take our work even further, and even inspire our children and others to work with renewed dedication for the tribals here,” she said.

The children have already joined them. Older son Digant and his wife Anagha are, like Prakash and Mandakini, a physician couple. They work at the Hemalkasa hospital. Younger son Aniket looks after the school which now has 600 residential students, including 200 girls.

A high-ranking government official who knows the couple, told IANS Thursday that although Prakash and Mandakini could have served in Anandvan, the rehabilitation centre for lepers founded by Baba Amte, they decided to go to Hemalkasa where they faced a tough life, hardships at every step, shortages of food, medicines, risks of diseases and threats from Naxalites.

Often called the ‘Albert Schweitzer couple of India,’ Prakash and Mandakini have spent their lives treating, completely free, about 100 patients on an average day. The injuries they treat sometimes include those inflicted by wild animals.

They also set up a shelter for orphaned wild animals at their Hemalkasa home, which became a magnet for people from miles around.

Completely in empathy with the residents among whom they live, the Amtes made a hospital ward open to the skies. Some of the treatment is held out in the open too.

Mandakini said that when they first went to Hemalkasa and set up the hospital, the tribals were illiterate. “There was only one person, that too a migrant from a neigbouring state, who was SSC (high school) pass. Then we decided to start the school since education would help the tribals assimilate themselves faster into the social mainstream.”

Later the government helped start other small schools and medical clinics, and several non-governmental organisations followed suit. “But there’s still a long way to go,” Mandakini said.

The Amtes provide a host of services - medical, education, awareness of hygiene since the area is vulnerable to epidemics like malaria, and helping the adults get jobs.

Last year, they were refused a US visa on grounds of being “too poor, with no known sources of income”. They had been invited as guests of honour at the biennial convention of Bruhan Maharashtra Mandal of North America in Seattle.

Following a public outcry, they were given the visas and managed to attend the convention.

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