P & M: It was unexpected because we prefer to work silently. We are very happy and accept the award on behalf of our dedicated team of the past 34 years. Our work has been highlighted and many are willing to help us.
What was your mother-in-law’s reaction?
M: Overwhelmed, she remembered Baba (Amte).
Prakash-Mandakini. Your names are never taken in singular terms.
M: We met in medical college, in Nagpur. Prakash had told me he wanted to serve mankind and I promised to be by his side. I didn’t know what it was to live in a forest then.
P: When almost everyone in our friends’ circle had plans to go abroad, it was difficult to forgo the lure. She did it happily. Being together makes everything balanced.
Tell us about your shift from Nagpur to a tribal village.
P: Baba wanted to do something for the tribals in Hemalkasa. Seeing his fervour, we felt we should contribute.
Will the government’s move to make village medical internships compulsory really work?
M: It’s a good initiative. Often students are forced to take admission in private medical colleges by paying hefty fees. They want to recover the money soon and it’s not possible in villages. If they get exposure to the state of healthcare in villages, they won’t find working in villages that bad.
Tell us about the government’s support to the ‘zero votebank area’ of Hemalkasa.
P: Initially, the government paid no heed, but when it got to know that Hemalkasa is coming up, it aided us with electricity, roads, landlines and even a grant for the school.
What about your funds?
P: Initially we were funded by Anandvan and Swiss Aid. The media spread awareness and visitors were moved. They donated personally or got us funds.
Who comprises your workforce?
M: We have a dedicated team who have sacrificed their jobs. Volunteers come from all over Maharashtra. We encourage them to spread this task to their areas.
What about the third Apte generation?
P: Our elder son and his wife, both doctors, have been serving in the village hospital for the past five years. The younger son has given himself completely to the school.
How do we inspire today’s self-centered youth?
P & M: They require exposure to ground realities. Once that happens, the motivation to serve will come.