Dr Prakash Amte and his wife Mandakini had not spent much time outside the deep forests of central India, home of the primitive tribe they have educated and treated, for 35 years. So the social workers were unused to their celebrity role at a function held by Dubai's Indian community yesterday to honour them on their first trip out of India. The function was attended by expatriate Indians as the couple were honoured for receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award in August last year for community leadership.
"We are not used to so much attention. We have not seen anyone but the tribal community for over 35 years," said Dr Amte, son of the legendary freedom fighter and social activist Baba Amte. In 1974, Dr Amte set up a camp in Hemalkasa, Maharashtra, with his father's help. He spent the next 35 years educating and providing medical treatment to the Madia Gonds tribe, one of the most primitive in India. The couple spent their lives developing the camp, known as the Lok Biradari Prakalp (People's Brotherhood Project). Their sons have started working in the camp, and Dr Amte said his grandson is showing an interest.
The hospital set up by the couple, who have been honoured with many other international awards, now treats more than 40,000 patients in a year from more than 1,000 villages in the area. "When I first started work the tribals never came close to us. They were all naked and had never made any contact with the outside world. Today, they are literate and progressing," Dr Amte said before the function. The couple also set up a school in the village, which is now regularly used by the community free of charge. Dr Amte said the graduates from the school have gone on to become professionals.
"They were tribes with no opportunities. Today, six of the students have gone on to become doctors, two lawyers and over 150 teachers. Many of them return and help the community," Dr Amte said. The couple were honoured at the Al Nasr Leisureland function, which was attended by Venu Rajamony, the Indian consul general in Dubai, and other dignitaries such as the actor Atul Kulkarni. Dr Amte said: "We always felt there was no need to tell others what we do.
However, after the award and subsequent talks and discussions, I realise that by talking about this others may be inspired to help as well." The Amte family's social service began with Baba Amte, a follower of Mohandas K. Gandhi who dedicated his life to helping lepers in India. "Baba used to talk with his body. I do not think anyone has the kind of values and passion like Baba," said Dr Amte. Baba Amte died in February last year, aged 93.