Saturday, February 9, 2008

Baba Amte

I was talking to my dad this morning and he told me that Baba Amte had died. Baba Amte was a well known social activist in India. He was best known for his work with leprosy patients. It all started one day when the young Baba Amte had an encounter that changed his life:

Lying before him was a man in the last stages of leprosy. The dying man had no fingers. ... he forced himself to return and feed the man. He also put up a bamboo shed to protect him against the rain. That man, Tulshiram, died in Baba's care and irrevocably changed young Amte's life.

He went on to found Anandwan, the Forest of Joy. Anandwan was a place where leprosy patients were treated and then rehabilitated. Baba Amte believed that "Charity destroys; work builds". Thus, it was important to give these poor patients a sense of dignity and self-worth by making them productive members of society.

Once the leprosy-affected persons were fit enough to leave the hospital they ceased to be 'patients'. They became working members of the community, busy in the fields or workshops where a variety of products were being manufactured. This made Anandwan a virtually self-sufficient 'village'.

He went on to found many more centers for leprosy patients, and later became active in the Narmada Bachao Andolan (an effort to prevent the building of dams on the Narmada river that would displace millions of people).

Baba Amte won numerous awards recognizing his efforts, including the Magsaysay Award and the Padma Vibhushan (India's second highest civilian medal). He was 94 when he died. He is survived by his two sons continue the work that he began.

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