About 100 miles South-East of Jhansi, Madhya Pradesh, is the town of Khajuraho. The world descends on this town to view, photograph and sing paeans about its spectacular temples. Built between 950 and 1050 CE by the Chandela dynasty, today, about 20 temples from that era still survive.The world marvels at the beauty of the temples and all the associated festivals. It takes a special kind of effort and commitment, however, to immerse oneself in activities that can add to the beauty of this area, without quite the same fan-fare as is accorded the storied temples!

Consider the story of 5 year old Arati. She lives in a village called Kundarpura- a settlement of Adivasis (tribals)- merely 6 k.m from the temple site. An otherwise alert and beautiful child, Arati suffered a fate similar to many children in the area- acute malnutrition. At the age of 5, she looked physically like a 2 year old and also suffered all the health related consequences (physical, mental and emotional) of poor nutrition. The adivasis have traditionally been foragers and have depended on their immediate ‘catchment’ area for their dietary needs. Rampant urbanization has slowly eroded their traditional food sources and they are now making do with the more limited food choices that their modified neighborhood provides. This has increasingly led to problems of malnutrition, the effects of which are much more pronounced on the children of the community. Arati’s growth charts at the local anganwadi center (a early childhood development center run by the government), classified Arati as ‘severely acute malnourished’. There were 5 more children in the same category.

Jagadish, a fellow Adivasi from the area, decided that he must help Arati and the other children using resources provided by the government. Jagadish,took on the responsibility of convincing the Adivasi community of the need for specialized care for cases like Arati. After much cajoling of the parents, Arati and five of her friends were taken to the Nutritional Rehabilitation Center.

The results were dramatic. After initial treatment at the center and with six months of special nutrition and followup at the Anganwadi, Arati and her friends were significantly stronger, happier and mentally more alert. Jagadish felt that they were almost completely different children! The results of Jagadish’s constant efforts to educate the community on the services of the anganwadi, and methods to ward off malnutrition using local foods, are starting to bear fruit. Slowly, mothers in the community are playing a larger role in monitoring the services offered by the Anganwadi and seeing that nutrition, medicines and treatment reach the children.

Jagadish believes that Arati and her friends are now the new ‘beautiful story’ of Khajuraho. The joy of seeing mentally alert and happy children in his community with much greater resistance to disease, is significantly more for Jagadish than what the carvings in the temple can provide him. To Jagadish and his tribe, Khajuraho is now just a little more beautiful!

The story behind this story:

The Rejuvenate India Movement (RIM) had worked with local NGOs to identify and train Jagadish to acquire the confidence and skills to solve his society’s problems! Often, there is much greater commitment and conviction when a community steps up to solve its own problems, rather than an outsider imposing solutions on them. This is the core philosophy of RIM. Across the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, RIM identifies smart, trainable locals and enables them to think through and implement solutions to their own problems. It also educates these individuals about existing governmental schemes which can be leveraged to solve their specific problems. These individuals like Jagadish are called ‘Samaj Shilpis’- literally, societal architects! What an apt name!

The Mera Terah Run 2015, is looking to raise funds to help RIM train many Samaj Shilpis across all three states, and thereby have a cascading multiplier effect in solving multiple fundamental societal problems. Let’s help many Jagadish’s make many more towns and villages that much more beautiful!