If there is one NGO that makes miracle lemonade out of lemons, it would be the Niramaya Health Foundation in Mumbai, India. Its dedicated staff work tirelessly the Deonar Dumping Ground, arguably India’s oldest and largest landfill located in the Mumbai’s eastern suburbs. Adjacent to Deonar are neighborhoods such as M Ward, in which approximately 200,000 people make their home–many are migrants from the countryside or neighboring countries such as Bangladesh.
The stench is powerful at first, and though I came close to retching a couple times, I got used to the smell fairly quickly–it was the burning garbage and dust that bothered me and my eyes more. Get past what smacks your senses, however, and you see it functions like just about any other neighborhood: small businesses and food vendors sell their wares; kids play obliviously and happily in the alleys; and residents give the once over to anyone walking around who does not clearly live there.
And while it functions like any community, many basic services, such as water, sanitation and health care, are in short supply. In one neighborhood we visited, the poorest of the poor are “rag pickers,” mostly women and children who scavenge just about anything they can to sell to recyclers. Services are minimal, especially health care. And the neighborhoods surrounding Deonar are where medical care is needed the most–suffering from sore throats is just the start of health problems; a bevy of infections spread quickly since small flats crammed with 10 to 15 family members are common; and education about HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases is lacking.
Niramaya (Sanskrit for “disease-free life”), however, is reaching more and more of M Ward’s residents with a relatively skeletal staff of 40 employees and the help of a dedicated network of volunteers.
The services are crucial because, while the Indian government has made impressive strides expanding health care services, government clinics are often overwhelmed or are just not accessible to M Ward’s residents–many of whom are living in areas that were developed illegally and therefore do not receive basic municipal services.
Dr. Janaki Desai along with a team of professionals founded Niramaya in 2001 with the mission to ensure a disease-free childhood for a healthy adulthood. Among its programs are initiatives to fight anemia and to educate adolescents about their sexual health and reproductive rights. In 2005, Niramaya expanded its suite of programs with the launch of mobile clinics, retrofitted vans that offer medical check-up events, drop-in evening clinics and home health care services for those living in M Ward. Traipsing these neighborhoods on Mondays and Thursdays, these vans offer medical assistance for as low as 10 rupees, or about 20 U.S. cents.
The pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline and Glenmark are among the firms and foundations providing Niramaya grants that so far have touched 15,000 residents. Pratham, a large educational foundation, is Niramaya’s largest donor. While these grants are a strong start, and Niramaya appears to stretch these funds as far as possible, this is still a drop in the bucket. India’s parliament is mulling over a law requiring companies to spend two percent of net profits on corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, but more action and funds are needed, and no nonprofit wants to pin any hopes on India’s legislative process.
Leon Kaye is currently exploring children’s health issues in India February 18-27 with the International Reporting Project. Based in Fresno, California, he is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Image credits: Leon Kaye]