By Matters India Reporter
Berhampur, March 24, 2019: As a child, Sukria Nayak had struggled with a nagging doubt, “Can I compete with others?” The reason: He was a Dalit who lived in a remote village in Odisha, eastern India.
“Coming from a village, studying in a school and then finally going to big cities to compete with others was not easy,” recalls Nayak of Kerubadi village in Kandhamal district, the first medical doctor from his community.
His biggest challenge, he says, was to overcome the mental block, which he did eventually, thanks to two persons — a school teacher and a Catholic lay philanthropist.
“Every time I had this thought, I was reminded of my schoolteacher who used to tell me, ‘Sukria, you have the talent for it and go for it.’ I always remember his words,” Nayak told Matters India.
While the teacher taught Nayak to dream big, the one who translated his dream into reality was Bijay Singh, co-founder of the Solidarity for Developing Communities (SFDC).
Singh’s NGO has helped hundreds of meritorious students like Nayak from Adivasi, Dalit and Other Backward Class communities become doctors and other professionals in the past 25 years.
“Our effort is to empower students from socially backward communities in rural India to pursue medical and other higher studies,” Singh told Matters India.
Founded in 1993, SFDC strives to provide professional training and education to students who show potential as well as the desire to study. It gives them resources and support to pass competitive entrance exams and join medical school or pursue other professional education.
“With proper education and training, we believe these students can transform their communities and break cycles of poverty, disease and lack of education,” the 62-year-old development worker explains.
In Kerubadi and other villages in Odisha, marginalized communities suffer from endemic malaria and sickle cell disease. Death and disease contribute to the cycle of poverty. At high risk are children and pregnant women as their villages have little access to medical care to treat or prevent disease, says Singh, a native of Kandhamal.
He said he realized a great need for medical professionals from these communities, but that could happen only if the local students are given “immense support, resources and encouragement to pursue medical school.”
“There is lack of adequate health professionals and health facilities in this area which are the major causes of preventable deaths, especially of the children,” Singh says.
So, he tried to create health professionals from among the underprivileged communities and make them available in villages.
“Making health care facilities fully functional in remote villages will help provide prompt, proper and affordable healthcare. This also will bring human dignity to these excluded communities, generation after generations.”
Singh says his people live in interior mountains or rural areas. “Most children have no desire to study because of poverty. They can never imagine going to college in the city to study medicine, engineering or other courses. Unless they are picked up, they would wither away,” Singh explains.
The students at their Berhampur center come from Adivasi (tribal) and Dalit (former untouchable caste) communities that have suffered many generations of discrimination and poverty. “Like Sukria, all of them need immense help to overcome social, mental and economic barriers,” says Singh.
Singh says he charges minimal fees from his students as “I believe anything free does not work.” The students have to do the plus two course as well as bachelor degrees at the center so that they get proper orientation for their future career.
The center has designed its training program to prepare these students play a vital role in transforming their communities, he adds.
“By empowering students from underprivileged communities, we hope to raise a generation of wounded healers,” Singh explains.
A wounded healer, according to him, is the one who has faced discrimination, but instead of living as a victim or resorting to violence he or she works peacefully to overcome the challenges of their situation, using what they have learned to heal others.
They first heal themselves and then others, Singh explains.
“Skilled medical professionals will help their communities fight disease, serve as role models for the young, and begin to reverse the cycle of poverty.”
Singh’s center has helped generate 36 doctors who now serve in different places There are also several nurses, pharmacists and engineers.
“I am excited because my people get an opportunity to do whatever they want to do and what they wanted to be,” Singh says.
Like Nayak, Rajshree Pradhan, an SFDC alumnus, has also become a doctor.
“I had a dream to become a doctor and SFDC has helped fulfill it. I am glad that people from my community would be able to get good health care now,” she told Matters India.
For Samir Nayak (no relation) from Saramuli village, it is a matter of great pride to be a doctor today. “My dream was to become a doctor and it has come to be true. My community also gets inspired and encouraged when they see me. I go to village every moth and conduct a small medical camp,” he added.