"If their kids fall sick, the impoverished families do not visit even a government hospital. They fear that if they skip work for the hospital visit, they would lose the day’s wages and the entire family has to go hungry."
Like many other cities of India, Kolkata houses an overlooked floating population – that of the daily wage earners, migrant labourers and the homeless, residing on the city’s footpaths. Putting up makeshift homes of tattered tarpaulin and ragged bedsheets at a moment’s notice, this population hardly puts down roots anywhere owing to the demands of their odd jobs in different locations. More often than not, the police relocate these families to prevent unlawful encroachment of footpaths.
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“Their lives are too harsh, especially for the children. The people barely manage a proper meal or two for the day, let alone sending their kids to school. Most of the kids are engaged in some menial work or the other, to bring in some extra money,” reveals Chandra Sekhar Kundu.
Hailed as the ‘Foodman’ of the city, this 41-year-old professor at an engineering college has been distributing surplus food from restaurants, canteens and barracks, among the homeless, since the past three years.
His latest initiative – Footpath Dispensary – treats sick children from impoverished families who cannot afford hospital treatments. Since its inception three months ago, the Dispensary has treated over 150 children till date.
Chandra Sekhar has started a makeshift clinic on the footpath of Kolkata’s Southern Avenue in association with the board of doctors from the Indian Academy of Paediatrics.
Forty-two doctors run the clinic on rotational shift. Some of the doctors involved in the project are Kolkata’s noted child specialists like Dr Atanu Bhadra, Dr Arnab Halder, Dr Rajat Suhra Sen, Dr Nani Gopal Chakraborty, Dr Avijit Rakhit, Dr Mrityunjay Neogi and Dr Indrani Mitra.
“The families staying on the footpath are mostly daily-wage earners. If their kids fall sick, they do not visit even a government hospital. They fear that if they skip work for the hospital visit, they will lose the day’s wages, and the entire family will go hungry. These parents only rush to a hospital when their kids’ ailments aggravate extremely,” shares Chandra Sekhar.
The philanthropist contacted the doctors’ forum when he noticed their plight while carrying out his food distribution efforts.
Aside from diagnosis and treatment, the dispensary also gives free medicine to the patients. In critical cases, the doctors immediately send the child to nearby hospitals and the forum funds their treatment entirely. As of now, the clinic is operational only in Southern Avenue but will start in three other locations of the city – Shobhabazar, Gariahat and Joka – within the next few weeks. At present, the clinic is organised once every month.
Chandra Sekhar envisions to expand the Footpath Dispensary into a nationwide movement to treat homeless children all over India.
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The first milestone towards his dream is all set to be operational soon as Dr Gagan Malhotra from Delhi is launching a similar Footpath Dispensary in Tilak Nagar on the first week of December.
“I want the idea of Footpath Dispensary to be replicated throughout India. If anyone reads about this initiative and gets interested in setting up a Footpath Dispensary, we will be more than happy to help them,” Chandra Sekhar assures, who can be reached at his email email@example.com.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)