Spotting a begger on the streets of Pune begging for alms is almost a common sight and yet, besides some coins that are given to them, there is rarely anyone coming forward to help them substantially. While some fall ill and suffer in silence, the others struggle with severe handicaps and wait for the day when a a good Samaritan will come to relieve their misery. And this is precisely what this doctor couple in Pune have dedicated their lives to; Treating them of their illness and empowering the less privileged with a means to earn their own living without sacrificing their self respect.
Hailing from a middle-class family in a small village in Satara district in Maharashtra, Dr Abhijit’s parents spent all their savings in their son’s education in hoping for a better future. However, after completing his graduation in Ayurveda, Medicine, and Surgery from the Tilak Ayurved Mahavidyalaya, Pune, in 1999, he could not find a suitable job. He could not start a clinic of his own due to lack of funds. After this , he went door-to-door hoping to earn money by providing medical care through house visits.
Eventually, due to poor economic condition of the family, he was pushed towards starvation. It was during one such visit to a village that he fell ill and a beggar couple helped him to recover. They would give him food, while encouraging him to remain positive in his goal to serve the society. “Their selfless help gave me the strength, and I give them the credit for who I am today,” he says.
Dr Abhijit got a chance to work with an international organisation that was providing healthcare facilities in rural areas of Maharashtra. Over the next decade, Dr Abhijit progressed and started earning over Rs 3 lakh a month. In 2010, when he returned to his village to meet the elderly beggar couple, he was shocked to know about their death.
He began to feel restless, and started to think of ways to give back to this community, He discussed with his wife about his plan to work for the beggar community. Dr Manisha, who studied with with him since his college days, supported his decision. On August 15, 2015, Dr Abhijit decided to leave his job. Using his savings and 30 percent of his wife’s income, he started his ‘Doctor for Beggars’ initiative. After enquiring about their capability, skills, and their potential business idea, he helps them to setup their own business. For instance, if a lady is good with numbers, they help her setup a small road-side shop to sell scarfs, bangles, and other accessories. They need to promise me that they will not return to begging later. In 2.5 years, more than 49 elderly beggars have started earning. “They put their hands on my head and bless me. I feel as if God himself has come down to bless me” added Dr. Sonawane.
Every morning, Dr. Abhijit goes to various places like temples, churches and mosques where a majority of homeless old beggars line up for collecting alms. He carries with him medicines, conducts check-ups, and provides free medicine to those that are in need. Dr. Abhijit says, “We are proud to say that since April 2017, we have supported 49 elder beggars to leave the begging trade.” A total of 1100 homeless individuals registered with Dr. Abhijit are receiving medical support.
The duo has gone a step further and set up Soman Trust, a non-profit, through which they raise funds, provide the underprivileged with access to government hospital services, in rural Pune. Trust also has empanelled a group of doctors who provide their services free of cost.