Published: 23rd January 2020
This Kolkata teacher started a footpath dispensary for doctors to treat slum kids' ailments. Inspiration much?
The footpath dispensary falls under the aegis of his organisation Feed (food, education and economic development), which began its journey three years ago in parts of Kolkata
If you visit Kolkata's Southern Avenue, a posh locality in the city of joy, you will likely witness an extremely rare sight — on a busy roadside footpath, there will be doctors sitting on plastic stools treating impoverished street children in what looks like a makeshift clinic or dispensary. "These children are deprived of basic treatment due to their economic conditions. Some of them are even involved in menial jobs to bring in some extra money and food for the family. Most of the time they cannot manage two square meals a day, let alone proper medical treatment or even medicines for themselves or their families," reveals Chandra Sekhar Kundu, the mastermind behind the Footpath Dispensary initiative.
Sekhar, also known as the 'Foodman' in the city, had already been distributing surplus food from various canteens, restaurants and barracks to the street children for the past three years. The footpath dispensary falls under the aegis of his organisation Feed (Food, Education and Economic Development), which also began its journey three years ago. His recent dispensary initiative has been running since August 2019 and has already treated more than 150 children. The first makeshift clinic was set up in Southern Avenue and then expanded to Gariahat and a few more places in the city.
Doctors treating children on the streets of Kolkata
Now, over 40 doctors run the clinic, who are all well-known child specialists in the city. At least four to five doctors come on a rotational basis to treat these children. Currently, it is being done once every month, which is set to increase soon. The children are treated for free and are provided with medicines for free. In case of emergencies or extremely critical cases, these doctors send the children to nearby hospitals and the IAP funds their treatment entirely. "Doctors have told us that they want to get down from their cars and treat these children but they don't do it often as they do not know how the children or their parents might react, that's where we step in, we help organise these camps or drives to provide them with the platform," adds Sekhar.
Speaking about how he came up with the initiative, Sekhar says, "I had been working in Asansol and parts of Kolkata with street children and while doing so I saw a lot of kids who fall sick are not given proper treatment and not taken to hospitals nearby when they are needed to. When I asked their parents why when treatment is free at government hospitals for BPL category individuals they aren't taking them? They said that the ambulances don't come unless the case is extremely serious."
He also adds that these families live in extremely poor conditions and are mainly daily wage workers. "They earn their wages according to each day's work so they say that even when the treatment might be free, an entire day is wasted if they have to travel to the hospital and get them treated thus losing a day's wage. So, they only rush to the hospitals when their child's illness aggravates," explains Sekhar.
Chandra Sekhar Kundu with some of the doctors
His initiative took shape mainly because of the assistance from the Indian Academy of Paediatrics. Sekhar approached the body's state representative Dr Atanu Bhadra and requested him to do something about the situation. "He was already associated with us through our NGO Feed for the nutrition drives, protein clubs we have conducted earlier. He then suggested that he will speak to Dr Arnab Haldar in Kolkata, who is in charge of the South Kolkata IAP Metropolis and requested them to lend a helping hand," he adds.
Sekhar (41), who is also a teacher at a private institute in Asansol, says that he wants this to be a movement across the country, and for it to gain momentum more people have to step in and volunteer. "I want to open more centres across cities so people get inspired. If we think doctors only want money or are businessmen, then we are wrong as there are a lot of them who want to genuinely work for the society and these children but they don't get a platform, so we will continue to expand and provide more such platforms to them," the philanthropist adds.
Currently, his initiatives are funded from his own pocket and the doctors provide treatment and medicines for free. In future, says Sekhar that he's hopeful some companies might want to collaborate or be kind to donate for the cause. Taking inspiration from the initiative in Kolkata, Dr Gagan Malhotra in Delhi, also a part of IAP, has opened a similar clinic in Subhash Nagar. "Very soon we will be able to open one in Vashi, Navi Mumbai," says Sekhar, adding, that they have plans to expand to at least four-five metropolitan cities, two centres in each in the next few months.