February 06, 8th Issue: Features Avenue

Disha for the Directionless

DISHA – an NGO, set up in IIT Kgp by IITians
and funded by ex-students

The story about to unfold may sound too good to be true. It was the vision of a place dreamt by a handful of Kgp- alumni. Things have come a long way since those utopian dreams first surfaced-they have now turned into reality.

Mr P K Dwivedi and Mrs Hansa Nundy, two ex–IITians hitherto happily settled abroad but wanting to give something back to their motherland come back to India. Kgp welcomed them back with open arms by granting them six acres of land. This was the birth of DISHA which would eventually change the lives of 100s of destitute people. This piece of land, though barren and at first sight seeming totally useless is covered with a boundary wall and a green cover. This would enclose a multi purpose building and a farm. Better known as Seema centre and Neera farm, 100 children would be chosen every year from the poorest of families. These children have their own stories to tell. Some of them were used to going to bed hungry, now they get four square meals. They were too poor to attend school, here they receive education and more. A medical check-up which would earlier be branded an unaffordable luxury now features in their daily schedule. Every ailment is treated, whether it’s the common flu or a faulty heart which needs operation. They are even be taught to work in the fields, to cook, to fish in the in-house ponds and trained about the practical aspects of life. A healthy, clean and hygienic environment to live, learn and grow, with hands on training on finding opportunities for employment, this is a boarding school with a difference, and with a noble purpose too.

The story isn’t over as yet. This model had to be self sustaining to survive, and it is. With sizable contributions from ex- IITians and students (two notable patrons being Arjun Malhotra and Lalit Behal), it started off and has come on its own. The Neera farms currently boasts of copious growth of a variety of fruit trees like guavas, mangoes and lemons, vegetable crops, acres of tea plantation and wood bearing trees like mahogany. This year saw them succeeding in cashew cultivation. A rain water drainage system has been set up and ponds have been teeming with fish. A bakery was set up which would provide employment to poor village women, apart from churning out nutritious and chemical-free bread and similar products. It worked well for a few years, but somehow couldn’t convince the hostels in the campus to buy its products on a regular basis. Sadly this bakery had to be shut down in 2004. However this didn’t affect the morale of these people. DISHA is now on a mission to replicate this model all over the country. Going by the track record and the zeal, it would be difficult to stop them.

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