We are sorry to tell you that Bijay Mahato, one of the new boys at our hostel, died last month on a Thursday night.
My dear friends and supporters,
For some time Bijay had been suffering from serious lung infections. Once before, the infections had blocked his breathing so badly that he had to be taken to hospital to have his lungs cleaned out. This time, after we took him to hospital, he died while the doctors and nurses were trying to unblock his lungs again.
Bijay Mahato was 10 years old when he came to live with us about a year ago. He came from Dumkadih, a village about 45 kilometres away from Dabar. His family are very poor. Both his parents work as agricultural labourers and so they often have to leave their village to work. In the end they had been forced to let Bijay work at a local dhaba. A dhaba is a roadside cafe, open 24 hours a day, which caters mainly for truck drivers and commercial travelers. Many boys work at similar places, where they have to work all day and every day. They get no pay, just their two meals a day. Of course, in India, child labour is illegal but poor people end up ignoring the law when they are desperate. So Bijay was spending all his time working when, at his age, he should have been getting an education.
It was a day of celebration for Bijay and his family when we offered him a place here. He could benefit from the companionship, the good food and water, the computers, sports and games, the interesting visitors and from being taken care of. He was already a fine Chhau dancer and was training as usual on the Sunday before he died. The Demon character was a favourite of Bijay and so we will sponsor a prize each year in his name at our local Chhau Dance competitions.
Bijay had been with us less than a year. Yet he had already made an impression here and at the state school he was attending. When the Minister arranged that schools should provide meals for their students, it was Bijay who was given the responsibility of organizing it on a day to day basis for everyone else. His school and the ones nearby closed for a day when they heard the news.
We went to talk to Bijay’s family at home in their village and gave over the money some of our supporters were able to send, to help with the family’s funeral expenses. We also held our own ceremonies here in Dabar, at the school.
Our staff met to discuss what had happened and decide what we need to do. The first thing will be to schedule monthly meetings and visits with the parents or guardians of each child. We will also arrange medical checkups twice a month. Our Dr Soma is now also a Schools Medical Inspector for one of the administrative Blocks in Purulia District and so would be an ideal person for this role. The house mother will check each boy individually every night and ensure the rooms are secure, for example that the boys are using their mosquito nets.
We can make these changes within our existing framework. However, our priority now really must be to get an ambulance. We need one not just for the boys but also for all the people in Dabar and our neighbouring villages. And not just for emergencies but also for outpatient appointments. The ambulance services in Purulia Town do not include Village Dabar.
In their daily routine, most people here either walk or go by bicycle. A few men have motorcycles but very few own cars. This means that the main hospitals are too far away for most people to get outpatient treatment, and patients often arrive too late when there is an emergency.
In past years, our family’s van has transported many people to hospital when there have been emergencies, which has meant that we have seen many births as well as deaths on the way. Unfortunately, at this time we cannot afford to buy medical transport without outside assistance. Anything you can do to help will make a great difference to our people’s health and save lives.
We are in the middle of monsoon, which takes up July and August. We have had good rainfall so far but are hoping for another three to four weeks of rain. The farmers need the rain for their rice harvest and everybody needs more water, which has to last for the rest of the year. Thankfully many of our own farmers and villagers can benefit from the new riverside pumping station, which will provide additional water during the rest of the year for the communal ponds and irrigation.
During these months the rain transforms the landscape, as you can see from these photographs.
Sanjay Kumar Mahato