Helping Disadvantaged Girls to Get Education in Rural India 

By Dr. Mani Balu, Monroeville, PA


Dr. Balu, a retired clinical pediatrician, practiced in Uniontown, PA for 23 years, and now lives in Monroeville, PA. He goes to Chennai every winter with his wife Shantha, and helps people afflicted with leprosy, an entirely manageable disease, but with lots of social stigma.

Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by a slow-multiplying bacteria, with five years of incubation period. The disease affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes. This disease is curable with Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT) (Source: WHO). This disease affects in a totally different way healthy young girls in families with elders afflicted with leprosy.

In 2004 I met two dedicated women in Pittsburgh in a conference — Becky Douglas of Atlanta and Padma Venkatraman of Chennai — who work helping leprosy patients. Their work and involvement in helping leprosy patients, who are the most misunderstood, neglected and ostracized people of the world, impressed me immensely. I joined them to start a Mobile Leprosy Clinic in Chengalpattu (near Chennai), which has the biggest leprosy hospital in Asia. Understandably, leprosy patients gravitate towards that town, living in and around the hospital, as they are not allowed to live in the main streets of any town.

While visiting their living quarters, I found out that the girls above 12 or 13 years of age are not allowed to go to school by their parents because there are no lavatories or rest rooms in these schools. With help from some of my friends, we started building rest rooms in these schools. We were very thrilled that this alone increased the number of girls attending schools.

These bright children in these remote villages are denied education because of their parents’ poverty and ignorance on the part of the public, but through no fault of their own. That is the reason for this article.

Most immigrants from India in US are here because of our education, enjoying a comfortable life for ourselves and our children and grandchildren.  In 1956 when I was in medical school in Madras Mr. R. Venkatraman, then Labor Minister of Tamil Nadu (who decades later became India’s president) came to our Medical School. In his address, I remember him telling us this: “Each one of you pay Rs. 200 as your annual fee and the government spends Rs.15,000 on every one of you yearly to run the medical college.” Padma Venkatraman, with whom I now work to help the leprosy patients, is R.Venkatraman’s daughter.

I could not have become a doctor if the annual fee was any higher than
Rs.200! Only the government-subsidized education enabled me to accomplish whatever I did in my life. This is probably true for most of us. In that spirit, I appeal to all of you to help the less fortunate children in India to reach their full potential.

In the past several years I have met many dedicated NGOs in Tamil Nadu helping the needy — AIM (All India Movement) for Seva, The Tamil Nadu Foundation (TNF), Ekal Vidyalaya, Udavum Karangal, to name a few. I am sure there are equally good or better NGOs in other parts of India.

I always feel if each one of us helps our own village where we come from, India will be a better country. Two years ago, I saw a big banner in the Guindy Engineering College in Chennai, once a premium institution in Chennai. It read “EDUCATE A CHILD WHO IS NOT YOURS” Let us do this together.

If you want for further details, contact me at 724 438 8242 (H), 724 322 7175 (C) or e-mail:     ♣

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