Travelling around, seeing new places and people is certainly joyful. But it has another remarkable aspect as well as impact. At times, we are reminded of the mightiness of nature, the timelessness of the universe, and how insignificant we human beings are in this grand play. At other times, there are instances when we stood in awe at the immense capabilities of human beings in dreaming, creating, and inspiring generations to come. A reminder that all of us have the power to create and change the world for better. And a sharp nudge to some of us who often crib about constraints and difficulties.
Anandvan is one place where we experienced these humbling and inspiring feelings.
Building Anandvan, or the Forest of Joy, was anything but easy. Baba Amte, once a successful lawyer, lover of fast cars, beer, and luxurious lifestyle, gave up everything one day to walk an arduous path of serving leprosy patients who are often disowned by their families and ostracized by the society. The story, as many would know, is one of remarkable courage, grit, hardships, passion, and perseverance.
As we turned to Anandvan at Warora, we did not have much of an idea of what Baba Amte did. We have heard about Baba Amte during our school days and later during the Narmada Bachao Andolan against the Sardar Sarovar dam project. It was the books we bought from Anandvan—a biography of Baba Amte by Anita Kainthla and another one (Samidha) by Baba Amte’s wife Sadhana Amte showed us the enormity of the task he undertook and his missionary zeal that changed thousands of lives.
Anandvan was founded in 1948 by Baba Amte to care for the outcast leprosy patients. He developed it into a self-reliant community relying on agriculture, home-based small scale industry units—all run by leprosy patients who have recovered/recovering from their illness. Residents stay as communes, where a cluster of people live together and share resources. There are around seven communes now with over 2,500 people live, making it one of the world’s largest communities of physically challenged people. A community that is bonded by care and love for each other!
Baba Amte was active till he passed away at the age of 93 though a severe degenerative spinal problem developed much earlier in life had made it impossible for him to sit; he could only stand or lie down. Sadhana Thai, as Baba’s wife was lovingly called, had also suffered from similar problem. The effect of the backbreaking work they did for years!
A guide took us through Anandvan, its farmlands, an emu farm, and a mini zoo. There was also a showroom where products made by the community were displayed for sale. One of the most fascinating things was a large image comprising our national heroes, made using pulses of different colours depicting our national leaders.
Anandvan today is spread across 200 acres and has two hospitals, one university, an orphanage, a school for the blind, and a technical wing. It is run by the organization Maharogi Seva Samiti (MSS). MSS also runs a few other projects similar to Anandvan. One of the interesting projects is at Hemalkasa in the Gadchiroli forests, run by Dr Prakash Amte, Baba Amte’s son, and his wife. Hemalkasa project was set up for the betterment of the local tribes (Madais and Gond) after seeing the appalling living conditions. Gadchiroli even today is one of the most backward regions and largely a Maoist-influenced area. One can visit Hemalkasa, but after informing Anandvan in advance. Interested visitors will be picked up in a project vehicle from Anandvan since no private vehicles dare to travel to Hemalkasa. We hope to travel to Hemalkasa soon.
Anandwan is in Warora in central Maharashtra. Warora is 100 kms from Nagpur and 90 kms from Wardha.
More photos here