Saturday, June 12, 2004

Gainfully re-employed 
Reeta Sharma

Many people who are about to retire or have already retired have often asked me to suggest them a job or a small-time business they may venture into. To my query as to why do they need to do this, the answer has invariably been "just to remain occupied." Since for the majority of them the idea was not earn a living, I suggested that they should disseminate their knowledge, experience, education and wisdom to the illiterate masses around them.

Most of them didnít heed my suggestion, and preferred to open boutiques, fast-food joints, training institutions, etc. and even ended up losing life-long savings as they didnít have experience in the field concerned. Obviously, the greed for earning more money had driven them to take up such ventures. Apparently, the thought of serving society after retirement was of no consequence to them.

It is in this backdrop that it is heartening to come across hundreds of retired people who have chosen the path of serving the unfortunate. The Citizensí Association for Relief, Education and Service (CARES), under the patronage of Maj-Gen Rajendra Nath, PVSM (retd) and Brig Gurinderjit Singh (retd), was founded by the late Lt Col R. K. Singh and his colleagues in 1982. Their aim was to educate children living in slum areas of Chandigarh. Today, the association even focuses on health issues and living conditions in the colonies. Col. (Dr) R K Dutta (retd), who joined CARES in 1985, has spent two decades serving people of all the colonies and slums that exist in and around Chandigarh.

CARES has opened cr`E8ches, schools, and held health camps, adult education programmes, dental camps and awareness camps in Kumhar Colony, Maloya Colony, New Janata Colony, Bapu Dham Colony, Bhagat Singh Colony and Dhanas village. In New Janata Colony, CARES runs a school up to Class V. As many as 90 students attend this school and there are 59 children in the cr`E8che. Colonel Dutta says, "We try to educate and provide health care to these unfortunate human beings. We invite doctors to speak to them about various diseases and health care. For instance, we ensured that Hepatitis-B vaccination must be given to these children. So far, 76 children have been vaccinated."

Kumhar Colony and Maloya Colony also run a cr`E8che and school run by CARES. The scene in Bapu Dham Colony is as hopeful. There is a cr`E8che-cum-school, where 45 children have had a regular dental check-up, Hepatitis-B vaccination and even received woollens, which were gifted by Brig Gurinderjit Singh. In Bhagat Singh Colony, a cr`E8che was started in 2002 in Baba Balaknath Mandir. Here food and elementary education is provided to the children.

All this work has been made possible by the perseverance and hard work of the members of CARES. The ignorance and illiteracy is so wide spread in the poorest of the poor sections of society that it is not easy to convince them to send their children to schools or for dental check-up or for vaccination or even to attend awareness camps. However, it is the presence of the members of CARES that the dwellers of slum colonies have gradually started responding to the calls of the organisers of various camps. Men have begun to allow their women to participate in various activities of CARES.

As Colonel Dutta says, "We Indians have a tendency to leave everything to the government. I think it is high time that society realised that the burden of the slums should be shared by all of us. If all members of society were to join hands to provide health to uplift the downtrodden, it should not be difficult to succeed. I am sure society can offer some kind of help to these people."

Whether it is Brig Gurinderjit Singh or Colonel Dutta or Dr Surjit Kaur Sandhu of the Family Planning Association of India, all are retired people who are consistently working for the poor to constructively keep themselves occupied.

This feature was published on June 5, 2004