Helping underprivileged dropouts prepare for a career in medicine
M3 India Newsdesk Nov 02, 2019
The '50 Villagers' institute that began as a small initiative by a group of doctors is now helping more than 100 underprivileged, orphaned children inch closer to their dream of pursuing a career in medicine. Here, we speak to the institute's founder medicos.
He never dreamt he would be a teacher. Dr. Bharat Saran’s career map was all laid out in accordance with his aspirations to pursue medicine. In the course of this, however, he encountered a crumbling education system where students from poor financial backgrounds were deprived of quality education and were even forced to quit their studies. That was when he took up the chalk and, not satisfied with just fulfilling his own dream, today he is also fulfilling the dreams of hundreds of others by shaping them into future doctors.
The '50 Villagers' initiative
It was started by a group of doctors to help underprivileged dropouts prepare for a career in medicine. These are students who are often either orphaned or have had to give up school to work and support their families. Most of them cannot afford to pay school fees, so the 50 Villagers team provides shelter, books and experienced faculty, all free of cost and managed through donations.
The '50 Villagers' classroom
Dr. Saran says, being from a poor family, his own experiences studying at a government school shaped this idea. He felt his teachers were neglecting students who did not attend their private tuitions after school. “This hurt me and hundreds of other students, but we were helpless," he says. “I am lucky that my father somehow managed to educate me and today I am a doctor. But then I thought about those who had lost their parents or did not enough resources to educate themselves and I decided to work for them."
"I shared the idea with my friends Dr. Omprakash Dudi, Dr. Sneha Mudgal Dudi, and Dr. Hardan Saran who supported me.” Two of them are also from farming families like Dr. Saran and shared similar experiences. “Later, we tried to rope in other doctors in Barmer, many of whom not only appreciated the plan but also donated to the cause,” said Dr. Saran, adding that about 20 doctors now volunteer their time at the 50 Villagers institute.
Sharing the story behind the name, he says that their very first batch had 25 students from Class 11 and 25 from Class 12. "When a group of 25 cleared Class 12, there were another 25 students to make it 50. And as they all belong to rural areas, it’s called 50 Villagers," he adds.
Making headlines with NEET
In 2015, the institute hit headlines for the first time when 28 of its students successfully cleared the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) that determines admission into private and government medical and dental institutions across the country. Till date, a total of 144 students have successfully cracked NEET, the highest being in 2018 when a record 32 kids cleared the test.
But the story doesn’t end here. Unfortunately. Dr. Saran said out of the 144 students, merely 46 of them secured admissions in government medical colleges and are currently pursuing MBBS. The rest are either attempting NEET again for better rankings or have opted for other professions like lab technicians, Rajasthan police services, B.Ed and B.Sc. Despite their talents, sky-high fees in private colleges - which are several times higher than fees in state-run colleges - often crush their dreams.
Dr. Saran cites the example of a student, the son of a cancer-stricken daily-wage labourer, who after passing Class 10 had to leave his education, as there was no facility for further studies in his village and his family could not afford to send him outside. But his school teachers, who knew of his abilities, arranged for his admission into 50 Villagers, where he scored 9,170 rank in the NEET in the first attempt. He got admitted into the Government Medical College Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh but his family could not afford the fees and had to ultimately mortgage their lands to send him to college. “You can imagine that when people are not able to afford even government college fees, how they can even think about private colleges,” he said.
According to Dr. Saran, private institutions have made medical education a profit-making profession and make a mockery of the Right to Education. “On one hand, the country is reeling under severe shortage of doctors and lakhs of people are deprived of healthcare. But on the other hand, we are not able to provide opportunities to those who are eligible to meet these needs,” said Dr. Saran, adding that the government should take serious note of it.
Dr. Omprakash Dudi, a psychiatrist at the government hospital in Barmer who is also a founding member of 50 Villagers, says the credit for all their success goes to the students. Dr. Dudi said "I salute their dedication. At a time when a number of students are committing suicide due to the mental stress of being in such a competitive atmosphere, the success of these students, shortchanged by destiny, has set an example for others on how to cope with challenges," he says.
Dr. Bharat Saran with some of his students
He speaks about a student from Rajasthan's Barmer district, who fought hunger and poverty to crack NEET in his first attempt and secure an All India Rank of 995. The student is currently in his third year of MBBS at S.N. Medical College, Jodhpur. A resident of Padru village in Barmer, his parents died when he was only seven. His elder brother takes care of him and two other siblings, including a younger sister who is mentally challenged and a brother suffering from polio. “Sometimes my elder brother managed food for us. When he failed to do so, we had to sleep hungry. Despite such a situation, my brother always supported me and inspired me to complete my studies," said the student.
This student's story finds an echo in many of the other students who went on from 50 Villagers to pursue medicine. From one whose parents died in a road accident when he was in Class 5 who is now studying MBBS in SN Medical College, to another, an art student in Class 11 who quit school in order to work, restarted school in the science stream and is now studying at AIIMS Uttarakhand, these 50 Villagers alumni are all inspiring success stories in their own right.
The author, Mukesh Mathrani is a Barmer-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.
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