Helping hand of NGO brings ray of hope to widows of Deoli

The wounds are too deep to heal even a year after this ill-fated hamlet in Kedar valley came to be known as the "village of widows".

Deoli Bhanigram: The wounds are too deep to heal even a year after this ill-fated hamlet in Kedar valley came to be known as the "village of widows", having lost 57 of its men to the catastrophic deluge that ravaged vast swathes of Uttarakhand but a helping hand from a leading NGO has brought a ray hope into their dreary lives.

A visit to the village a year after the tragedy when nothing but a deathly silence brooded over it, is a welcome relief as it has begun to throb with life again, thanks to the efforts made by Sulabh International which lent a helping hand to the women in distress to pull them back to their feet.

Though the void created in the lives of 34 women who lost their husbands in the tragedy can perhaps never be filled, they are learning to come to terms with their bland existence and recollect themselves to take on the challenges ahead.

This was more than evident today as the village (a gram panchayat) took part in celebrations held by Sulabh to mark a year of its adoption of the hamlet to help it recover from the effects of the tragedy, in which thousands of people lost their lives.

23-year-old Dhanita is the youngest of the 34 women of this gram panchayat who were widowed by the landslides last year, having lost her husband Sunil and the family`s sole breadwinner in the flash-floods.

Singing lullabies to her daughter at her home in a remote valley in the Himalayas, Dhanita can now speak of her determination to fight for her family`s survival.

Sulabh not only adopted widows but also the elderly and the children of this gram Sabha by donating Rs 2,000 per month to each of them.
Besides opening a well-equipped training centre for computer education and tailoring, Sulabh pays Rs 1,000 to each affected family in this panchayat.
Girdled by mountains, the widows at the Sulabh training centre were occupied with assignments around the 22 sewing machines and a dozen computers the organisation donated in the month of December.

While the women say they are determined to learn ways to become breadwinners for their families, the trauma of losing their loved ones is still etched deep in their hearts.

"All I did was just cry and sleep. I didn`t have the energy to do anything else. How could I learn something new at this age and make enough money out of it?" asks Savitri Tiwari, a mother of three.

"However, Sulabh Founder Bindeshwar Pathak brought a ray of hope to by doing all this for us," she said.
The women also worry about their daughters` future in a region where, like many parts of India, marriage is a pressing priority.

With little money, they fear they cannot pay for a wedding or a dowry ? a centuries-old tradition that is banned but still widely practised.

They were, however, confident of getting support from the Sulabh founder for education and marriage of their daughters.

In December last year Pathak launched a vocational training programme for them in the village in Guptkashi under Rurdaprayag district.

Sulabh opened training centre for the women most of them widows and few girls of marriageable age in village.
12 computers and 25 sewing equipments have been arranged for local villagers.

The Sulabh founder visited the village to launch various programmes for employment of local people. The NGO started imparting them vocational training in candle making, sewing, making diya-batti (lamps) and is giving basic education besides making them computer literate.

With an aim to develop Deoli Bhanigram as a model village, Pathak urged business houses to adopt at least one village of this devastated state.

His organisation pays Rs 1,000 to 300 families of nearly six villages. The dead are mostly males, having worked either as priests or shopkeepers or hoteliers or porters en-route to Kedarnath.

For their livelihood, the people of Ukhimath Tehsil depend on the religious tourism in Kedarnath. A total of 440 lodges and shops in the Tehsil were destroyed?in nature`s stroke of fury.

Six months of peak religious tourism used to provide men from the area enough to sustain their families for a year and save some money.

With the prospects of religious tourism at Kedarnath dimming, the residents of the Tehsil have been left in the lurch.

Pathak, while launching vocational training programme for this village, noted employment has become a challenge to the residents.

The entire population was dependent on Kedarnath for livelihood, and the tragedy has affected every individual in some way or the other, he says.

"We do not want the village to get a tag of `Village of Widows`. We want it to become `Model Village`. Now, we will take care of their needs. We will impart vocational training to widows and ensure proper education to the kids," said Pathak.

"Whatever is possible to mitigate the sufferings of these hapless women, Sulabh will try its best. We have always helped people in distress, and in this instance of Himalayan Tsunami, our efforts will match the magnitude of the devastation," the Sulabh founder said.

Pathak said: "The monthly relief given by us will not bring cheer to them but at least give them a source to run their families, the initial amount of Rs 2,000 per month will be paid for next five years.

We have decided to aid the rehabilitation of the women, so they can get the threads of life back together. "We will make similar efforts in Deoli-Bramhagram panchayat area so that their proper rehabilitation could be ensured. Sulabh is committed to provide relief and succour to these women and their kids," Pathak told journalists.

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