An Inspiring Field Visit to Bhansali Trust at Radhanpur

In the first week of August 2023, our team from Tech4Dev, including Erica Arya and myself, along with Shrutika and Deepak from Dasra’s Catalytic Philanthropy team, had the honor of visiting Bhansali Trust in Radhanpur, Gujarat. This visit deeply impressed us as we witnessed the incredible efforts of Bhansali Trust to uplift marginalized communities in the remote villages of North Gujarat. We gained valuable insights into diverse projects spanning Education, Healthcare, Community Health, Immunization, Family Planning, Eye Camps, De-addiction, Self Help Groups (SHG), Income generation, and financial aid for the disadvantaged in Gujarat and Bihar. The trust’s unwavering commitment to serving the most vulnerable communities left a profound and lasting impact on us.

Our diverse group, which included Mr. Ashok Bhansali, a founder and trustee of Bhansali Trust, and Ms. Jasmin Sharma from MSI overseeing CSR, gathered in Ahmedabad. Ashokbhai’s thoughtful planning was evident in the comprehensive 3-day schedule he had prepared, starting on August 2nd. The journey to Radhanpur took about 3 hours from Ahmedabad, during which Ashok Bhai shared insights into their family history and background. He also discussed the guiding principles of Bhansali Trust, with one principle standing out – their dedication to quietly and effectively working in challenging areas without seeking self-promotion.
En route to Radhanpur, we made a stop at the Eye Checkup Camp under Chasma Project, located at Khari Dhariyal Primary School, a collaborative endeavor between MSFT and Bhansali Trust. Under the umbrella of Sarva Mangala Family Trust (MSFT), MSI has been driving this initiative where they examine the eyes of the adults and children with a portable refractometer and issue the eyeglasses in the rural areas. A significant objective of our visit was to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the Chasma Project, particularly to enhance the process of data collection and management through technology.  We noticed a substantial number of adults and children patiently waiting in line for their eye examinations. For cases where patients exhibited cataracts or other serious eye conditions, referrals were made to nearby hospitals for cataract surgery and further treatment.

Globally, more than 1 billion people have vision problems that could be corrected or prevented, and the main cause is often refractive errors. The joint actions of MSFT and Bhansali Trust in rural regions are praiseworthy steps in tackling this important problem.

We also got an opportunity to visit Gokulpura, a nearby village within Radhanpur, where we met with a group of over 20 women who were part of the Mahila Mandal of the village. One of Trust’s core areas of focus is women’s empowerment. They have established Self Help Groups (SHG) among socially and economically disadvantaged women. Ashokbhai nurtures a close bond with the beneficiaries, creating an environment where people freely share their challenges and moments of happiness with him. A surprising and heartening revelation was that women from underprivileged backgrounds are stepping into leadership roles, including becoming sarpanch (village head) in the panchayats, thus gradually transforming the status of women in a traditionally male-dominated society.

During our visit, we also had the opportunity to visit a couple of houses in the same village, and it was disheartening to witness the challenging living conditions and circumstances they were facing.  In one home, a husband fought tuberculosis while his pregnant wife cared for their four daughters. Another woman, widowed by a road accident, now cares for her three young children. In a different household, a mother of three, one with special needs, navigated her own difficulties. Trust’s unwavering support for these families was evident, and it felt as though they had truly adopted the village.

Ashokbhai provided an overview of Bhansali Trust’s initiatives, addressing diverse needs. Trust actively led various programs and initiatives, such as a TB control program, de-addiction from tobacco and drugs, immunization, tackling malnutrition and child mortality, promoting safe motherhood, addressing childhood blindness, conducting eye camps for cataract and other eye surgeries, providing protein supplements, and adopting Aanganwadis.  The Trust launched a Mushar project in Bihar’s Gaya district in 2015, targeting the marginalized Mushar community, classified as ‘Maha Dalit’, providing education through schools and hostels, along with health support from paramedical workers and mobile clinics. The Trust’s micro-credit initiatives through self-help groups offer loans at low rates, empowering women to start businesses, educate their children, handle medical emergencies, and build homes, promoting their independence and decision-making. Ashokbhai and his wife Sheetal commit 12 days each month to field work. His impactful journey in the social sector left us genuinely inspired.

The next day, Ashokbhai introduced us to the Heads of Departments (HODs) in charge of different programs at his office. We conducted separate meetings with each HOD and their teams to gain a thorough understanding of their programs and challenges. Our goal was to provide assistance and enhance the effectiveness of their ongoing endeavors. We interacted with teams responsible for Self Help Group, Kapad, Gram Vikas, Vaccination, Manav Rahat, and Autonomous initiatives.

The Kapad program offers stitching training to women and provides them with sewing machines, enabling them to earn extra income from home. The Gram Vikas initiative targets impoverished villages for upliftment, aiding families in accessing government schemes, promoting family planning, conducting health check-ups, and addressing addiction issues. The Manav Rahat program involves monthly financial aid to needy families. To ensure transparency and prevent fraud, an Autonomous team monitors Trust’s programs in each block of North Gujarat. Utilizing technology like Phone Tracker, GPS location, and Biometric systems, the Trust efficiently manages and oversees its initiatives.

Bhansali Trust’s community engagement approach is built on a holistic and interconnected view. They focus on providing comprehensive support to families and individuals by combining various program interventions. This approach ensures that every community member gets the needed help to overcome poverty. By addressing multiple well-being aspects and offering diverse support services, the Trust creates a more effective and lasting way to alleviate poverty.

In the afternoon, we were fortunate to tour the Trust’s campus, where we explored workshops outfitted with modern amenities for activities like cloth cutting, stitching training, designer clothing production, and protein powder mixing. While there, we engaged with the diligent staff and individuals contributing to these workshops. They expressed deep appreciation to Bhansali Trust for offering valuable job prospects that empower them to earn income and enhance their lives. The Trust’s dedication to fostering employment and skill growth was clearly seen through the positive impact it has on the people it supports.

During our final day, we stopped by the Naroli High School with boarding facilities while en route to Deesa. We interacted with teachers and students during a science class, and it was inspiring to learn that some of the school’s former students have returned as teachers, contributing to the continued provision of high-quality education at the school.

Subsequently, we toured the impressive Gandhi-Lincoln Multi-Speciality Charitable Hospital in Deesa, established in 1982 through a collaboration with the Zale Foundation, USA. We had the privilege of meeting Mr Mahesh Bhansali, founder & trustee of Bhansali Trust, who has dedicated his entire life to social work and has been actively involved in the villages of North Gujarat. Dr. Soni, the hospital superintendent, and other staff members also warmly welcomed us. The hospital’s de-addiction program, serving individuals from Gujarat, Rajasthan, and other states, left a significant impact. Interacting with the patients in the program, we witnessed their genuine satisfaction with the hospital staff’s care and service. Wrapping up our visit, we enjoyed a delicious lunch with Maheshbhai and Dr. Soni at the hospital’s guest house before heading to Ahmedabad for our flights.

The field visit was truly a memorable experience that I will always hold dear in the times ahead. The genuine openness and warmth exhibited by the Bhansali Trust team have etched a lasting impression on my heart. What’s more, we forged meaningful connections and friendships during our visit, and we are eager to nurture and strengthen these bonds in the future.

Thank you, Ashokbhai, for the incredible hospitality, meticulous planning with attention to every detail, and the wonderful home-cooked meals. Your remarkable endeavors in the social sector have truly left us deeply inspired.

Thank you, Bhansali Trust, for the incredible experience and the opportunity to witness firsthand the impactful work being done to create positive change in communities. Your commitment to making a meaningful difference is truly commendable.

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