A Ray of Hope
Open the morning newspapers and one finds only news about crimes against women and children and rampant corruption in all walks of life. The same is true for television too. No political party is immune to the malaise, which is deep rooted. There cannot be a graver threat to democracy than erosion of political credibility. Any further deterioration can only lead to anarchy, which is most undesirable. Mobocracy cannot be the solution to the improvable failures of democracy.
Yet, not everything is lost. There are still politicians in all parties, who are into public service out of pure passion and not as a profession. They are successful in their vocations and want to do something good for the society and the country. Arvind Khanna, a Congress MLA from Punjab, is one such person.
As a young boy growing up in Delhi, Arvind Khanna, grandson of Maharaja Bhupendra Singh of Patiala, loved hearing stories of Punjab from his parents. Stories of lush green fields, harvest festivals and youngsters proving their mettle in sports. Punjab seemed like a place straight out of a fairy tale for him.
After studying in Delhi till the age of 14, Arvind left for England and USA for his higher education. On his return in 1995, Arvind visited Punjab to discover his roots. He travelled the length and breadth of the state and what he saw left him shocked. Years of terrorism had wreaked havoc in the state. The condition of some districts was appalling and far removed from the image of a prosperous Punjab that Arvind had cherished in his mind. Some districts had no basic amenities as they had been ignored by both the planners and institutional service providers.
Despite being a successful entrepreneur, Arvind yearned to work for the betterment of Punjab.
In 1997, Arvind identified Sangrur as the most impoverished in Punjab and embarked on an unprecedented journey that has changed the face of the district for good.
He formed Umeed the same year to translate the hopes and aspirations of the underprivileged to reality. Umeed works on three fronts - social empowerment, healthcare and employment opportunities.
Umeed set up its first Self-Help Group (SHG) for women called Umeed Mahila Manch with the aim to develop skills and make villagers, especially women, financially and socially self-dependent. Today, there are over 351 SHGs with over four thousand women members. Members are given training in vocational activities like dairy farming, stitching, knitting, candle/soap making and crochet/embroidery work. After completion of training, Umeed facilitates bank loans for various income generation activities.
It has opened six Social and Economic Development Centres, which specialise in crochet work. Members learn to make book covers, feeding bottle covers, baby blankets, dining runners, mats, napkins, bed/sofa throws, coasters, doilies, toast/sandwich covers etc, which are sold in major metros and also exported.
The NGO has opened 46 stitching centres in 46 villages of Sangrur, wherein women are trained by professionals to enable them to become self-employed.
Umeed also holds awareness programmes for women with funding from the Central Social Welfare Advisory Board. Women are educated about their civil and legal rights by experts at camps held at regular intervals.
On the health front, Umeed runs a Health-at-the-Doorstep programme under which teams of doctors and nurses from renowned hospitals visit villages at regular intervals to treat patients free of cost. It has till date covered over 500 villages and treated over 4.6 million people.
Besides, Umeed conducts multi-specialty camps, health camps for schoolchildren and pensioners, gynecological, ophthalmology, endocrinology and orthopaedic camps, two heart camps each year and reproductive and child health programmes for 25,000 beneficiaries each year. The NGO also holds HIV/AIDS awareness and intervention camps, which has till date covered 10,000 truck drivers and 5,000 migrant labourers.
In February 2011, Umeed opened a rural BPO, where educated youth from the district are employed and trained to scan and process requirements of various MNCs, be it perspective planning, records, archives, functional data and financial updating.
Fifteen years on, the media shy Arvind has given many in Punjab a healthier and financially-secure present and future.
In this era of pessimism and scepticism about our public servants, Umeed is not just a ray of hope for the people of Sangrur but for the rest of the country as well.