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The Light of A Lantern .................................. ................... by Dr A V Ramani

We reach Ambajhari at 8 pm. It is the last village we will
visit today, and I am glad. I am tired. It's been a long
day of work, examining ante-natals and under-five children
in various villages in the cluster. Now in Ambajhari I will
be examining children in the non-formal education centre.
Ideally, this should be done during the day, but this is
the only time the children are available.

As I walk with Sasikala and Sallie to the village, I try to
keep up my enthusiasm for my work. I feel stale after a
long spell of field work, and the problems seem
overwhelming. Poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance,
exploitation... the list is endless. I can't help feeling
that the Saura tribals among whom I work are fighting a
losing battle for survival. And what *I* can do for them
seems so insignificant, so ineffective.

I hurry along behind Sasikala, who has the torch, trying
not to stumble on the narrow path.

As we enter the village, I can see the small lamps in the
verandahs of a few huts. The bright spill of
solar-cell-powered light from the NFE school building helps
us skirt our way around cows and dogs warming their feet at
a log fire that is dying down to a comfortable glow.
Further down the street, nine young men sit around a
lantern, their faces lit softly by its light as they listen
intently to what one of them is saying.

As we enter the schoolroom, we are met with a chorus of
greetings. Faces scrubbed, hair slicked down, wearing their
best clothes, 20 children aged 6 to 13 gather here each
night to study. Their teacher is barely older than they
are, a bright boy who graduated last year from the NFE
centre in his nearby village. And though he longs to study
further, he cannot afford the luxury of being a student in
one of the residential schools in the area. He needs to
earn. So he works during the day, takes classes at night
and tries to keep up with his studies when he can.

All this is explained to me by Sasikala, the health worker
in charge of this cluster of villages.

The children are delighted at our arrival -- it is a change
from their routine. I find that most of them are suffering
from chronic malaria, and some from severe anaemia. Other
than those things, they are a happy, energetic group.
Several mothers gather in the schoolroom when they hear we
have come; each watches anxiously as her child is examined.
The younger children have all gone to sleep and so we will
examine them the following day.

We finish an hour later and emerge from the schoolroom. The
men around the lamp are all writing something now. I ask
Sasikala about them. She explains.

The youth of the village decided they wanted to learn to
read and write as well, just like the small children in the
NFE building. Too shy to study with their children and
siblings, they formed a separate group. They are being
taught by a literate youth from a neighbouring village;
they are paying him Rs 10 per person per month. They are
also buying the kerosene they need for the lantern.

I stand there for a long time, watching this group of young
men studying by the light of a lantern.

As we walk back to the jeep, I notice the stars in the sky.
I realise now that, without my being in the least aware of
it, this little village has been quietly lifting my
spirits.


                                 - 30 -
Note ---

Dr  A V Ramani is a MD in Community Health from the  Christian Medical
College, Vellore. She was working for Gram Vikas, a NGO in Mohuda,
Orissa, she now works for UNICEF in Bhubaneswar, Orissa

If anyone wishes to contact Dr Ramani.... please email me... I have her
address..

George..






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